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Winnebago Man (2009)

It not about RVs... Really
It not about RVs... Really

Genre: Comedy Drama Documentary

Starring: Jack Rebney, Ben Steinbauer 

Directed By: Ben Steinbauer

Overview: "Jack Rebney is the most famous man you've never heard of - after cursing his way through a Winnebago sales video, Rebney's outrageously funny outtakes became an underground sensation and made him an internet superstar. Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer journeys to the top of a mountain to find the recluse who unwittingly became the "Winnebago Man." - IMDb

For those three of you who frequent my site regularly, you know that my Vituperatem's primary focus is currently two subjects. First there's 1001 Movies I Must Review Before I Die. That's the 'Film Study' part of this little hobby of mine. And then there's Fetid Film reviews, which are pure fun and always films screened during Hecklefest, a venue where I pay very little attention to the film itself, choosing instead to drink, talk trash at the screen and drink some more.

Another big part of Hecklefest are the short clips of the hilarious we watch between features, from the "Rambo" cartoon series to Everything Is Terrible, old episodes of "Night Flight", TV Carnage, and, one of our alltime favourites, the Found Footage Festival. From this Found Footage Festival came our induction into the world of Jack Rebney's angry mind as captured in the 10 minutes of outtakes of his industrial sales video for Winnebago back in 1989. This clip was and is still one of my absolute favourite moments in Hecklefest's history and since this weekly event of ours has been going strong for 4 years, that's saying a lot. When I saw that there was a documentary about finding Jack Rebney, 'The Angriest Man In The World', 20 years later, it felt like necessary homework. I owed it to myself to add context to Hecklefest.

And really, Winnebago wants nothing to do with him either!
And really, Winnebago wants nothing to do with him either.

To be quite honest, I was unimpressed with the trailer for Winnebago Man. It made the film seem like a lame attempt at making money and fame on the back of 'some guy', that it would be nothing more than a one-trick premise drawn out to a feature length with little in the way of hooks, surprises or comedy. Instead, director Ben Steinbauer's film goes about about Jack's story in a much more fascinating way.

The film begins by deftly punching through what could have been a 'niche piece' by introducing us to Jack Rebney's viral video in such a way as would explain the core of Winnebago Man to even the staunchest Luddite. We learn how viral videos happen, who they happen to, how they make people (in)famous and what happens when that fame is instead finger-pointing humiliation, with references to other famous viral vids such as the Star Wars Kid. From here director Ben Steinbauer follows the themes of humiliation and isolation to a degree that is a little too heavy-handed for drama's sake, but still manages to create an enjoyable mystery to surround our bitter RV salesman. The film soon becomes a quest to find and meet Jack Rebney. What makes him a man worthy of a documentary all to himself? Simply put, he's Internet-famous enough that an Indy filmmaker got curious, turned on his camera and asked the question, "Who, where and how is Jack Rebney?"

The endeavour was a risky one, since the first meeting Ben has with 'The Angriest Man In The World' is somewhat uneventful. We have a sense of accomplishment to our director's journey, but, as is often the case, the legend was mightier than the man. It seems that Jack Rebney, 20 years later, was nothing more than a secluded, content, mellow, happy guy. The tale gets deeper when Ben Steinbauer receives a call from Jack, who explains that he was on his best behaviour, and the admission that that serene man was but a façade. Jack Rebney is still mad as hell. He's humiliated, he cares nothing about the idiotic fame he's receiving, and he hates his imbecilic audience all the more for making him a meme, because seriously, what does that say about American society?

Aaaaand hook. Now, half-way through this 85 minute tale, we come to the ironic situation where Jack must decide if he wants to continue on this path of fame, or hiss his final public curses at the camera. This is where Ben Steinbauer takes his bias-free documentarian card, rips it up, and jumps in. Rather than staying innocuously behind the camera, he dares become a part of the story himself and builds an on-screen bittersweet rapport with Jack that takes Winnebago Man and delivers the sort of human character study that make these types of docs great.

In following Jack Rebney in this character arc brought on by the news of his infamy, Winnebago Man is profound without being preachy, funny without being saccharine, and a first feature that director Ben Steinbauer can be proud of.

 I always said he had a sense of humour about himself. I wasn't wrong.
I always said he had a sense of humour about himself. I wasn't wrong.

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 7 Script: 8 Plot: 9 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 80% (Hitch A Ride)
Aftertaste:

More than anything, this self-imposed Hecklefest homework is a great bridge between the serious study and the silly trash cinema nights I write about. I recommend it not only to those who know the '89 Winnebago outtakes, but anyone into human interest pieces.

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