Winnebago Man

Winnebago Man


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Celebrity is changing. Once upon a time kids dreamed of finding fame as movie stars; now it's all about getting 15 minutes - or seconds - on a TV talent show. For those who don't even make it that far, there's the internet, but the thing about internet celebrity is that it can happen to you whether you want it or not. Jack Rebney became a celebrity after a compilation of out-takes from a commercial he was filming was put together by colleagues who wanted to get him fired, and subsequently leaked onto YouTube. His florid response to the frustrations of a shoot where everything kept going wrong led to him being celebrated as the Angriest Man in the World. Due to the product involved, he is also known as Winnebago Man.

Who is this man? Some fans of the video say they'd prefer not to know, and there's an awkward acknowledgement that having to identify him as a human being would spoil the fun of mockery. Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer decides to face up to what he perceives as collective guilt and to go out and find the real Jack Rebney. He gets more than he bargained for. The real Jack Rebney, a former journalist, is much smarter than him and ahead of the game, initially leading him on a merry dance; but as they get to know each other better, both men start to show genuine curiosity about one another, and there's the possibility that this formulaic documentary will turn into a genuine learning experience.

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Perhaps I needed to learn a little more before approaching this. I'll admit that I don't understand what makes the celebrated video so funny, but it may be one of those American cultural things that gets lost in translation. If you do find it funny, this film may work better for you, but I found it very slow. Whilst it tries to show us an emotional journey, which inevitably takes time, it just doesn't have enough quality material to keep viewers entertained for the duration. The direction is pedestrian and, though Jack is an intriguing subject, this approach to him isn't particularly insightful. It's the story of an attempt at cross-generational communication in which the director doesn't understand that he too is required to make an effort.

Classed as a comedy, Winnebago Man seems strangely out of place. It lacks the laugh out loud energy that fans of the video seem to find there. There's certainly humour to be found, but it's not at all clear that this is intentional, or that the filmmakers themselves are even aware of it. Still, the film has other points of interest, as Jack encounters the internet generation and finds points of common feeling but is confounded by political apathy. In the end there's a hint of tragedy about the fact that he can play their game when he chooses to - and in their terms, he's a success - but they seem to have no real understanding of what success might mean in his terms, or of what he means when he suggests that ineffectual anger is intrinsic to the human condition.

Reviewed on: 09 Nov 2009
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The truth about Jack Rebney, Winnebago salesman and inadvertent internet celebrity.
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Director: Ben Steinbauer

Writer: Malcolm Pullinger, Ben Steinbauer

Starring: Jack Rebney

Year: 2009

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US


Doc/Fest 2009

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