- 7.09.10 - 5:00PM
- - by
- Nick Douglas
Winnebago Man Documentary Opens in Theaters Tonight - A Review
I love funny web videos. But I usually assume they're good for three minutes, and that spending an hour and a half with one would be a bore. I've met some memey people, and they often are bores. Not the creative ones, but the people plucked out of nowhere. And the Winnebago Man was plucked out of nowhere.
But I could spend weeks with Jack Rebney, the former motor-home sales host whose curse-filled outtakes went viral on VHS before becoming one of the first internet memes. An hour into Winnebago Man, I was jealous of documentarist Ben Steinbauer for getting to hang out with this angry old intellectual.
Viral Video: The Winnebago Man Outtakes
"Winnebago Man" Trailer
I was a little frustrated with Steinbauer's direction of Rebney, because the old man has so much to say. He feels a bit disdainful of his fans (before he meets them, anyway), because he clearly knows that their affection for his old outtakes doesn't have anything to do with the political messages he'd like to get across.
Rebney is an old angry anti-Bushian and anti-consumerist. We don't see enough to know his whole political outlook – which seems like Steinbauer's decision, since he shows himself asking Rebney to stop talking politics – but we at least see his rough-edged individualism and fight-the-power attitude. We do get to see Rebney talk back to a security guard and show little peeks at the autodidact's wealth of knowledge and insight.
It's reassuring: This guy isn't some idiot we're exploiting with our gawkery. He knows just what's going on, he's deigning to let us into his world, and his dignity is intact. So we can comfortably settle in with this man for a while. (It's much more awkward to hang around with an unaware weirdo; you realize you don't like them as a person as much as an object, and then you just feel awful, or bored.)
But we don't spend the whole film with Jack. Before he shows us his star, Steinbauer lets the Winnebago project's crew talk about working with Jack and explain why they put the outtake reel together. There's a bit of boring eulogizing from mere fans, but it's not long enough to ruin the Jackless first act. The crew are neat characters themselves.
The best character, though, might be Jack's good friend Keith, who I swear is from a Wes Anderson movie. He's Steinbauer's go-between with Jack, and he's a pretty good help to the audience too. This guy's quirky enough to be his own character, but he's amused enough at Jack to be our proxy, to show that it's okay to be this guy's friend and still think he can be nuts sometimes. While I would have sat through the movie without Keith, I'm not sure I would have liked it. With him guiding us through, this is the fun story of a well-to-do older man coaxing his comfortable hermit friend to head deep into modern America to meet his fans, and see if the idiots of contemporary society are really as bad as Jack thinks.
Spoiler: Jack no longer hates us all.
The movie opens tonight in New York, and elsewhere throughout the next two months.
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