Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Man of the Year (2006)

Jon Stewart goes to Washington!

Ever since Mr Smith goes to Washington, many other unlikely people have become political operatives in the new political fantasy genre that Frank Capra created. You know, the genre where an outsider to the political process gets elected to office in what a political leader would call a "freak election result", an anomaly that doesn't quite create the chaos and rioting the leader fears, but a reform and general cleaning up of crooked politics on the Hill. We've seen Eddie Murphy as a conman turned Congressman in The Distinguished Gentleman, Lisa become a Congressgirl in an episode of The Simpsons, while Martin Sheen and Geena Davis asarch-liberal Presidents of the United States on The West Wing and Commander-in-Chief respectively. So it's no surprise that in this degenerate age of political incompetence and dishonesty, that another political fantasy will be made, simply because it's more difficult to impeach George W Bush.

But what sort of political outsider would suit the tastes of a modern-day Mr Smith goes to Washington? Barry Levinson (Wag the Dog) feels he has a good answer: in this degenerate age where the mainstream media covers up for the government's lies and undemocratic actions, the only source of credibility is the political comedy, the fake news show typified by Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, The Onion, and Bill Maher. I kid you not - the audience of The Daily Show tend to be more educated than the average American voter, more aware of the issues, and more capable of separating fact from fiction (they were far less likely to believe that Iraq was involved with the 9/11 attacks). So in this degenerate age, why not have Jon Stewart, gadfly of Washington politics, go to Washington to set the politicians right? Imagine how fun it would be to see a comedian in Stewart's mould on the campaign trail, saying truthful things that career politicians will never dare say!

Okay, so Jon Stewart won't be running for president, and he doesn't star in this movie, but Robin Williams is funnier than usual with his one-liners and piquant observations of what's wrong with the media and politics. He's joined in this movie by Lewis Black from The Daily Show and Christopher Walken. Any danger of any one of the 3 actors (all famous for overshadowing their co-stars when they are in funnyman mode) dissipates because bringing all 3 of them together creates some sort of nullification field that prevents them from eating up the scene, while retaining the quality of their funniness.

In addition, the director decides to introduce a serious sub-plot to the story involve a Diebold-like company whose complacent executives unleash faulty and unverifiable voting machines into the elections, and attempt to cover up or even silence the only talented programmer who discovers the error. The mixture of comedy and thriller may not quite mix well together, which is a pity because I feel Levinson forgot an important thing about the concept of this movie: it's not the jokes that make a political comedy funny, but the fact that you're satirising the political process and political discourse. This movie has funny jokes, but not the amount of satire and mockery that one expects. It might not be such a bad thing, considering that Levinson intends to pitch Man of the Year to not just the wonky liberals who watch The Daily Show, but to conservatives as well.

This film will work if:
1. You like the comic style of The Daily Show, The Onion, or even the new Half Hour News Hour
2. You aren't offended by political comedy, unlike some political leaders
3. You find that Robin Williams's character isn't in the end bland or safely acceptable like how we expect politicians to be

First published at incinemas on 8 March 2007

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