The bad news: due to unforeseen circumstances (ie: my friend Jen's extended birthday party), I wasn't able to make it to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery screening of the supremely funny Airplane. The good news: a lot of great, new films opened up this weekend in theaters near me, and I did see one of the best movies yet on my journey - the documentary and fabulously titled Winnebago Man.
At first, the theme of the documentary seems sort of slight. Before the age of YouTube and viral videos, way back in the 1990s, a video clip made the rounds that had thousands of underground film fans tied up in fits of laughter. It was basically just outtakes of one Jack Rebney, a spokesman for Winnebago Industries, having the worst possible day ever on the job while filming a promo for Winnebago. The footage captures Rebney in all of his colorful, expletive-filled and extremely profane glory, as the heat and the humidity and flubbed lines of corporate dialogue get to the guy. It's very, very funny.
The documentary takes place 20 years after the event, with filmmaker Ben Steinbauer trying to find out whatever happened to Jack Rebney, who seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth shortly after the promo was filmed. Strangely enough, he eventually does find Rebney living alone on top of a mountain in Northern California, with only his dog Buddha and his phone pal Keith Gordon to keep him company. He's vaguely aware of the phenomenon his clip has become in the Internet age, but seems to have moved on and is now at peace with the world, and content to live in his cabin with his books and his dog.
Or so we - and the filmmaker - are led to initially believe. As the doc shows, there is a lot more to this story and this man. The second and third acts comprise what the guy's really been thinking all of these years, how the clip is just the beginning of his thoughts and rants and expletive-rich diatribes on modern life, and what's eventually in store at the end of this fascinating life journey.
I'll admit - it took me completely by surprise, and made for possibly the most emotional response I've had to a movie yet on my own journey. I wasn't sure if the doc had anywhere to go after the first act, but by the end, I was amazed by its ability to entertain and move and have something significant to say about our common, human condition. At one point or another, each of us has laughed at some funny viral clip, which often depicts another person's folly. But the question of whether we laughed at or with someone else is an important one. This film - which is guaranteed to make you laugh and cry and laugh again - does an amazing job at showing how, in the end, we're all complicated people who are thoroughly different and similar at the same time, and all equally amazing.