Movie Review: "Man Of The Year"

by Marybeth Kuznik,

"Man Of The Year" is a somewhat dark comedy in which a computer software "glitch" (FAILURE!) causes national TV comedian Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) to get elected President of the United States. The story begins when a fan suggests a run for the White House during Dobbs' TV show, and a subsequent national grassroots internet movement gets him onto the ballot in thirteen big states as an independent candidate. After an invitation to participate in the National Presidential Debate, Dobbs gets revved up with dynamic anti-major-party and vote-for-change rhetoric that hints at a totally over-the-top version of our movement's own David Cobb on the Green Party campaign trail. Or perhaps Dobbs evokes Kinky Friedman, now running for Governor in Texas, who has one of his real-life quips on gay marriage actually used by Dobbs in the film.

Dobbs' total honesty and jabbing humor resonate with enough voters that, although he is not expected to win, results coming in his favor from the thirteen states on election night seem plausible enough to cause his election to be ultimately accepted by the American public. But in the meantime, an honest employee of the Delacroy Voting System Company (supplying all machines nationally to the election) learns of the software problem that in reality threw the result to Dobbs. Will she be able to get the word out? And should she?

As the tale unfolds, "Man Of The Year" portrays the voting machine company as creepy, greed-laden, negligent, and willing to lie, cheat, steal, or even hurt or kill to sell their product and cover up their problems. "It's the PERCEPTION of legitimacy that's important, not the real thing," says lead Delacroy lawyer Alan Stewart, portrayed by Jeff Goldblum (native Pittsburgh actor and jazz pianist extraordinaire) as a smarmy Diebold executive type but with a frightening and evil streak. Some other choice phrases: "Voter Confusion" is mentioned repeatedly when describing non DRE voting systems and past elections, and "...although the machines do not have a paper trail...It appears that exit polls are flawed..." intoned by a news anchor discussing unexpected results on election night in a deja vu of 2004.

Although nothing in the film is real (as in real names, other than Chris Matthews and some other TV personalities playing themselves), a lot about this film feels really familiar and in many cases a bit scary to this election activist watching it late at night. The inability of the whistleblower to be heard or taken seriously evokes a female Clint Curtis (or maybe us all!), and repeated suspenseful scenes in bedrooms and hotel rooms brings "suicide" victim Ray Lemme eerily to mind. Black pickup trucks on the Beltway and Delacroy private planes on the tarmac at BWI recall some of the most far-out fears and claims tossed around during the Ohio Recount and elsewhere. And the Delacroy DRE and voting booth itself looks like a cross between a futuristic iMac and a colorful lime green version of the ES&S iVotronic on its four-legged stand. One has to wonder how much homework and lurking in our own movement was done by the screenwriters and directors.

"Man Of The Year" does not address the enormous constitutional problems that this totally plausible scenario would create in a real Presidential election, nor does it get into too many of the nuts and bolts of electronic voting. But the voting scene, where Tom Dobbs casts his vote for himself, purposely gives pause in the pace of the film as if the movie is wondering along with the rest of us whether Tom's vote -- or anybody else's -- is really being counted. And the ending is as "right" as we all could wish for in real life.

This film is a great opportunity for our movement. Even after midnight, people were talking about voting as they left the theatre. If our member groups would do meaningful flyering outside theatres, with flyers giving links to state and national Election Integrity sites, and other sources of good information, I believe we could educate many about the problems with electronic voting and gain many new allies from the public.

IMDB movie site HERE: