Trailer Trash Walk – Revisiting “Winnebago Man”

So if you’re a fan of Jacob (and who isn’t really?), you’ll be able to quickly answer this question:

“Which movie trailer was reviewed on the first episode in which Jacob appeared as a co-host?”

Here, I’ll give you a hint:

May The Schwartz Be With You

HAHA I TRICKED YOU! You thought it was SpaceBalls didn’t you?

…No? You saw the blog post title and deduced that the movie in question was actually Winnebago Man ?

Very sneaky PaleoPosse…Very sneaky…

Background

So if you’ll remember back to Episode 41 – Jacob Have I Loved, Charlie and I had initially disagreed about whether or not the movie looked worth-while.  Charlie had argued that this movie was, in-effect, just an episode of “This American Life“, and that the story of Jack Rebney was not likely to be compelling enough for him to buy a ticket.  I on the other-hand, argued that the character development of Jack Rebney was likely to be very interesting, and that the mere art of character development is something that is missing in a lot of modern movies.

After seeing the movie, I think we were both a little right and a little wrong.

Experiment (i.e. SPOILER ALERT!)

The movie starts out by introducing us all to the hilarity that is the original Jack Rebney “Winnebago Man” videos, and a bit of their history as one of the first “Viral videos”.  If you haven’t seen the videos yet, I’ve added it here so you understand.

WARNING!! NOT SAFE FOR WORK (NSFW) AUDIO!

The movie’s narrator, Ben Steinbauer, then asks us to wonder what could have happened to a man like that.  How did he get to be in those videos? Was that his personality, or was he going through some terrible period in his life? How did those videos affect his life, and how has he changed since then?

But most importantly, is he even alive?

Through the help of a private detective, Ben eventually finds Jack Rebney, living alone in the woods in Northern California.  He finds him to be a polite yet flamboyant individual whose life seems entirely unaffected by the videos.  Which, from the standpoint of concern for our fellow-man, is extremely comforting.  But for someone hoping to make an exciting documentary, this is somewhat disappointing…

Luckily, it was all a facade!   Jack eventually calls Ben and admits that his persona was completely fabricated, and that he is, in-fact, exactly the crotchety old man he appeared to be in the videos.

WHEW!

So anyway, Jack hates the videos, blah blah blah, thinks everyone else in the entire world is stupid, blah blah blah, has a single friend who is even more dramatic and flamboyant than he is, blah blah blah, and oh yeah he’s going blind.

Eventually Ben convinces Jack to come meet his “fans” at the Found Film Festival in San Francisco.  Jack makes sure to let everyone know that he fully expects “these people” to be completely ignorant degenerates; likely to be wholly incapable of forming a cogent thought, let alone understand the sheer OBVIOUSNESS that is the idea that Dick Cheney is the devil incarnate.

Low and behold, Jack meets his fans and “has a moment” with them.  He realizes that people are simply people. And though people laugh at his videos, they do not view Jack himself as a stupid or evil man, but rather they relate to him, and find comfort in his videos.

So finally Jack is humanized in the eyes of the viewer.  The angry man we see in the videos is now someone worth caring about.  We’re all just one big happy family.

Analysis

Here’s what Ben Steinbauer tried to do:

  1. Define Jack Rebney as an incredibly interesting person, with a sure-to-be awesome life story
  2. Find Jack Rebney
  3. Learn Jack’s life story; understand Jack.
  4. Allow Jack’s fans to understand him
  5. Allow Jack to understand his fans
  6. Character Development and Humanization complete

Here’s what Ben Steinbauer actually did:

  1. Define Jack Rebney as an incredibly interesting person, with a sure-to-be awesome life story
  2. Find Jack
  3. Argue with Jack
  4. Force an old man to do things he doesn’t want to do.
  5. Show him off to his fans; record his reactions
  6. Pretend the story is complete.

Let’s get one thing straight – Jack Rebney is HILARIOUS.  I don’t think it would have mattered who it was that made this film, it would have been hilarious no matter what.

But the problem is that Ben Steinbauer just didn’t answer the questions that we wanted answered.  Sure, at the very end of the movie, he finds a way to humanize Jack by showing how he can relate to his fans… but for the entire movie, we’re left asking the same questions we were wondering at the beginning.  How did he get to be in those videos? How did those videos affect his life, and how has he changed since then?

We are told little rumors that attempt to answer these questions, but never from Jack himself.  After finishing the movie, I’m honestly left with more questions than when I started.  How was Jack’s marriage?  Does he have any children?  What happened after the Winnebago videos? (He was apparently fired)  Why did the private investigator find P.O. Boxes all over the country registered to Jack? What was he running from?

So while the movie did find a back-door into Jack’s heart, and succeed in making him relate-able, it completely failed at developing the truly interesting character of Jack Rebney

Conclusions

I had fun watching this movie.  I laughed loudly and often.  But that was all thanks to Jack Rebney himself, and not the narration or production or direction of the movie.

I like documentaries, especially funny ones (see The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters), and while this certainly wasn’t the worst documentary I’ve ever seen… it wasn’t the best either.  I was left wanting so much more than when I started, and given Jack’s deteriorating health and stubborn seclusion, I’m unlikely to ever receive that.

So in conclusion, I rate this movie a 1.25π out of 2π.

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