Directed by Ben Steinbauer
Starring Jack Rebney
The viral video was once just a video that an individual posted on the internet that suddenly spread like wildfire due to its popularity. Many such videos have become a part of the pop culture either. Early such videos include the Star Wars kid and the dancing baby. One video in particular became known as The Winnebago Man.
This video consisted of outtakes from the making of a promotional video for the Winnebago Company’s newest vehicles. The host of the video, Jack Rebney, isn’t having a good day during the filming and it shows in a big way during the filming. The clips are hilarious but they’re also the definition of exploitative. The overt story deals with director Ben Steinbauer’s fascination with Rebney and his mission to find Rebney and see how close the real man is to the one in those outtakes. The secondary story investigates the effect of this sort of popularity put upon the unsuspecting “victims” in these viral videos. Often we laugh at these videos, repost them, share them with friends, and some viewers even contact people in the videos to share their own thoughts on the video. The film takes a few minutes to cover what has happened to the people that have appeared in some of the more popular videos and the results are necessarily positive. For a moment it feels like this movie my change gears from quirky character study to message movie. What’s perhaps most fascinating about this film is that it successfully does both without beating the viewer down with a message. In fact the resulting message isn’t what you’ll expect; it actually shows how different people are and how they experience things so differently from each other.
The character study is worth the price of admission alone though. Jack Rebney is in many ways the angry man that you’d expect to meet from those videos but he’s more than that. He’s articulate, opinionated, and most definitely odd, and without a doubt fascinating. After watching the film you come away knowing a lot about him, and nothing all at the same time. The documentary answers many questions about him but it asks tons more that never get answered and most likely never will be answered. As much as we learn as viewers, and the director learns as a fan of the Winnebago Man, Rebney actually learns more about the world around him and his legions of fans than he ever thought he would. Speaking of learning, one of the best sequences in the film comes when we meet some really hardcore fans of the Winnebago Man and how they have to think about who they are and how they treat these videos after meeting Jack Rebney himself.
This is a near perfect film in that it has a message but that message isn’t pounded over your head and even though it’s a personal documentary the director still manages to step out of the way 99% of the time when Rebney should be the focus of the goings on. There are really only two little hiccups in the film. The first is a very stagey scene of the director sitting on a bed with his head in his hands. The narration is overly scripted as is the shot. It would be one thing is the scene was really necessary to the storytelling but it’s not. It could have been cut and the movie would be better for it. The other hiccup involves a bit of narration right before the closing credits that feels like the director just needs to hear his own voice saying something he thinks is important when in fact his words are just redundant. It’s overcooked for sure and the scene that follows it with Rebney renders it a waste of time. Get rid of these two issues and you’d have a perfect doc. With that said Winnebago Man is one of the very best character driven documentaries out there. It’s funny, it’s dramatic, and it’s topical. Fans of documentary should check this one out as well as fans of YouTube videos, and just fans of good movies.