Director: Barry Levinson
In the 1980’s, Barry Levinson directed a string of hits including Diner, Good Morning Vietnam and Rain Man. While his career fluctuated with the quality of films in the 90’s (the memorable Avalon vs. the unfortunate Toys for instance), he did best when choosing more offbeat material such as Wag the Dog and Bandits. Reuniting with Robin Williams, writer/director Barry Levinson crafts an intriguing political comedy/drama that begins like Warren Beatty’s Bulworth but ends up morphing into a hybrid of Levinson’s earlier Wag the Dog and a John Grisham novel. Perhaps inspired by the success of the leader in fake news, Jon Stewart, the host of TV’s popular Comedy Central series The Daily Show, Williams is cast as a similar comedy news host who decides to run for president after an enthusiastic fan suggests it, thus planting the ego bug. Treating the current political environment as fodder, Williams uses humor and confrontational tactics to lure voters sick of traditional party politics by running as an Independent. An intriguing mystery subplot develops as electronic voting employee Laura Linney discovers a computer glitch that will alter the results and erroneously affect the outcome of the race for our next commander-in-chief. Like Darby Shaw in Grisham’s The Pelican Brief, Linney’s character soon finds herself targeted by superiors who don't want the truth to get out so, with her life increasingly at risk, she sets out to contact Williams directly and a romantic attraction develops between the two. Williams is perfectly cast in a role that Levinson no doubt tailor made for his Good Morning Vietnam star and the film raises many questions about current flaws and weaknesses in our system including voter apathy and technical polling difficulties. Timely, thought provoking but very funny, Man of the Year does unfortunately suffer one forgivable but confusing flaw in that the work itself feels like a draft in progress—uneven in its execution as though certain scenes had been left on the cutting room floor that may have prevented viewers from feeling as though they were missing some important pieces of the puzzle, including buying completely into the relationship between Linney and Williams. Still, while not in the same league as his earlier triumph Wag the Dog, fans of that particular film and Levinson and Williams in general, will be sure to enjoy it.