In 1993, we were treated to a daffy-sweet fable of idealized American politics called Dave — which (I’d totally forgotten until the IMDb search) actually nabbed a Best Screenplay nomination. It starred Kevin Kline as a genial presidential imitator hurried conspiratorially into the Oval Office when the real C.I.C. (a gray-skinned conserva-bot) throws a clot to the brain during an illicit tryst. I’ve always liked this movie. Its chief fictions — that anyone really can be president, that an “anyone” really should be president, and that all the system really needs to purify itself is a down-to-earth, straight-shooting Everyman — were attractively put across, and one didn’t have to buy their literal truth to get a wholesome charge off that shimmering White House mythology (which, to be brutally honest, owed more to the Foggy Bottom theater of Michael Deaver than to the movie’s own milky-eyed progressive conscience). I certainly got a charge off it.
Thirteen years later, in a national humor considerably more grim, we brace for Man of the Year (opening Friday), writer-director Barry Levinson’s answer to the question, What if Jon Stewart became president? (Was that really a pressing question?) It stars Robin Williams as a fake-news anchor more trusted than both the politicians he skewers and the newspeople he upstages. He runs. He kills. He wins.
I am dreading this movie. Me. The Dave fan. The embracer of the white-columned mythos, the drinker of the progresso-populist Kool Aid. Why? Simply because Levinson hasn’t made a good movie since Wag the Dog, where he benefited tremendously from both screenwriter David Mamet’s disciplined pessimism and Willie Nelson’s inspired mumblings? Because the trailer makes it look, for all the world, like Mr. Patch Adams Goes to Washington? Because a comedian is not an Everyman — he’s an Anti-man — and I don’t trust Williams or Levinson to figure that out? Or simply because I also found this on IMDb, which is pretty irrelevant, yet, I think, worth mentioning?
For all these reasons, and for this one: “ROCK in the USA” is now officially the “I Feel Good” of political fairy tales, and must be banned from trailerdom immediately.
Or maybe I’m just a bitter, aging crank whose dreams have shriveled like defective shrinky-dinks in the oven of absolute reality. Are you looking forward to Man of the Year? Can I recapture my youthful idealism? Your answers below…