Winnebago Man (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Winnebago Man (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEI don't know how in the hell the producers/makers/whoever managed to get Michael Moore to say that Winnebago Man is one of the funniest documentaries ever made.  It seems like they're pandering to the exact demographic that Winnebago Man in some ways critiques.  Jack Rebney is not the funniest person ever to grace a documentary, so the film about him really isn't that funny.

Thank God for that.  Because it doesn't pander in any way, and eventually presents Jack as he is, it turns out to be a far more interesting film than if they just repeated the Winnebago video for eighty minutes.

For those not in the internet, or VHS if you're old school, know - the Winnebago Man stems from Jack's stream of curse words during a tech video shot for Winnebago.  The slightest thing that went wrong was treated to a torrent of f-bombs from Mr. Rebney, and the only time that he wasn't cussing was when he was able to hold it together for the three seconds it took for him to curse again.  He built up a sort of cult celebrity, first with the VHS tapes that were circulated, then with the advent of the internet the various people that saw the video uploaded onto Youtube.

Which, by the way, if you want to be part of the in-crowd you can watch here.

Cut to about eight years later and Ben Steinbauer, the director of this piece, decides to go off looking for the Winnebago Man after he disappeared into the sunset.  Let it be known now, Steinbauer does not have a future directing documentaries.  His voice overs are intrusive, he obviously stages far too many moments for the camera, and outside of his moments with Jack he clearly does not know how to pace a film yet.

Most of the time Jack comes off as a very angry Mr. Miyagi with access to a thick thesaurus.

So now it's time for me to say why I'm both recommending this movie and why I like it so much, because it certainly isn't the craftsmanship that went into it.  First, the film does raise a lot of interesting questions about the nature of internet celebrity and how it exists primarily as a way for us to lord over someone else.  This question is partly raised intentionally because of the various interviews that Steinbauer gives to various "media experts" (like the director of Deuce Bigalow) and his own quest.

It's a bit odd that a twenty something would go off searching for the "angriest man alive" but that he would obsess over him so much.  He tracks down Jack's last known addresses, hires a PI, and recalls again and again how he felt watching that Winnebago video for the first time.  Whether the internet breeds an unhealthy obsession with failure and embarrassment is a pretty fertile topic, and Steinbauer would do well to take in some self-examination.

But aside from those questions, the film manages to be something specially because of Jack.  He's an incredibly intelligent man who has spent the last ten years living alone in a cabin, reading the great works of fiction and religion, and writing pages and pages of material for a book on God, religion, sex, government and society (which, after watching this film, I'm damned interested in reading).  He's not exactly the personality that Steinbauer was expecting, and is wondering how the "fans" of Jack are going to treat him.

Jack is way more interested in debating strangers about the nature of existence than embracing his internet celebrity. Can't say I blame him.

Jack's personality is so damned interesting that the other moments not featuring him are of near waste.  He hasn't lost the trademark anger, but it's a finely tuned instrument and he goes off at length on politics and the nature of existence while tossing in a few curse words now and then.  He's content being a hermit, and isn't really interested in engaging his fans because, as he puts in a wonderful moment, "I do not believe that I have the capability of being able to state anything in a vernacular that is going to be understood by the people that you want me to talk to."  Those being the people that find it amusing to watch a video of a man yelling at a Winnebago and some flies.

Winnebago Man ends up being partly about the way expectations can be subverted in many ways, and how the nature of internet celebrity may not quite be something to endorse.  There is an opportunity for Jack to meet some of his fans later in the film and this is where those themes come to the full front of the film.  The film is a bit of an accidental success.  Much like the man himself, don't take the packaging to be representative of the whole deal.  There's a lot more working for Winnebago Man's favor than it had any right to earn, but I'm glad it did.

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Winnebago Man (2010)

A documentary about Jack Rebney.
Directed by Ben Steinbauer.

Posted by Andrew

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