Maybe Man of the Year but Not Movie of the Year
There have been a few movies which have managed to blend comedy with drama to make reasonably good comedy thrillers. Alas "Man of the Year" doesn't despite trying hard to be a comedy thriller surrounding politics. The issue is quite simply that the two elements never blend, so you get half a movie which is all about the comedy then the second half which is all about drama and it makes it comes across as if it has a split personality, never really achieving maximum effect in each half. Shame as "Man of the Year" has the potential to being a fun comedy which works through political satire but never achieves it.
Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams - RV: Runaway Vacation), the host of a satirical talk show decides to run in the Presidential election when it appears the public want him to do so. Having hit the campaign trail, Dobbs' political satire seems to be winning fans and as election night progresses the absolute unthinkable happens as Dobbs ends up winning, becoming the President elect. Except it turns out that the computerized voting system built by IT Company Delacroy has a glitch and Dobbs in fact didn't win. But with the Delacroy stock rising, they plan to sweep this little fact under the carpet except Eleanor (Laura Linney - Love Actually) who discovers the glitch decides she must do the right thing and tell Dobbs the truth.
For me the first half of "Man of the Year" is the best as we are introduced to chat show host Tom Dobbs who's political wit ends up leading him to run in the Presidential election. It's fun because what we get is basically Robin Williams doing stand up, throwing one liners and gags left right and centre as he tours states and cities. And although some of the gags end up falling a little flat, there is an energy to Williams performance which makes it so much fun, think of the comic riffing in "Good Morning Vietnam" and what you get in "Man of the Year" comes reasonably close. It doesn't even matter that the idea of Dobbs running for election has no solidity to it, it's fun and the various memorable scenes such as the televised debate works extremely well.
But as already mentioned "Man of the Year" has an almost split personality which comes out in the second half of the movie as it tries to turn itself into a thriller. The focus switches to the faulty computerised voting system and the attempts of Delacroy boss Stewart to silence ex employee Eleanor from making public the glitch. It's such a contrast to that first half of irreverence that it feels wrong, subdued and lost as it struggles to get the level of tension which it is aiming for. It does manage it a couple of times, a scene in a public phone box is surprisingly tense but for the most this second half meanders along with no real momentum.
And what makes this second half feel even more wrong is that whilst Robin Williams delivers many memorable moments of satire during the first half he seems lost in the second half. It's as if the person who ends up silenced is Williams character Dobbs, who spends most of this second half being quiet and looking pensive only occasionally letting loose with a quick one liner. Shame as Robin Williams has shown he can do drama, he can even do drama with a touch of comedy but the way his character has been written ends up wrong with a split personality to match that of the storyline.
As for the rest of the cast well Laura Linney, a wonderful actress, manages to deliver a sense of drama and tension despite the actual storyline failing to do so. And Jeff Goldblum as Stewart her boss manages to come across adequately conniving that you would believe him as someone willing to destroy someone's life to get their silence. But the best of the supporting performances comes from Christopher Walken as Jack Menken, Tom Dobbs manager. Walkern is a master of the straight faced comedy, delivering humorous lines in such a way that he makes even the lamest of jokes entertaining. And to be honest Walkern is the only one who manages to generate the right character mood during both halves of the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Man of the Year" is a confused movie with its two drastically different halves. The first half with Robin Williams on the campaign trail as Tom Dobbs is where it works with Williams delivering many memorable moments. But it all goes strangely wrong when the comedy is dispatched with and the more serious, semi dramatic storyline takes over making "Man of the Year" feel completely wrong.