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Jack Rebney in a still from the movie Winnebago Man
Jack Rebney in a still from the movie Winnebago Man

Movie review

Winnebago Man: We like him because he's us Add to ...

  • Country USA
  • Language English

As we're listening to the air turn blue, the question quickly arises: "Does anyone really want to watch a documentary about an old guy who swears a lot?" And the answer, like so many answers these days, can be traced to the Internet: "Perhaps, but only if you've already seen the YouTube video about the same old guy who swears a lot."

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Dubbed the Winnebago Man, it was one of the first such videos to, in the parlance of the trade, "go viral," infecting no fewer than 20 million viewers worldwide. So, along with funny cats and other wacky mammals, this foul-mouthed species clambered up the ladder of celebrity.

His name is Jack Rebney, and the infection in question dates back to 1988, when he was filming an industrial ad for Winnebago recreational vehicles. The video (circulated in dubbed VHS tapes before hitting the Web) consists of outtakes from the shoot, showing Rebney in fine spewing form, cursing everything and everybody including himself, prompting some of his more quotable outbursts ("My mind is a piece of shit this morning") to wend their way into pop-culture argot, and earning him the proud title of The Angriest Man in the World.

Apparently, like many repeat viewers, director Ben Steinbauer found this cauldron of ire both funny and oddly comforting, a reminder that "we are not alone in our frustrations."

So, regularly appearing on camera himself, Steinbauer sets out to track down the Winnebago Man, curious about: 1) what he's doing these days and; 2) whether he's aware of his Web celebrity. "Not much" and "Not really" are the respective responses, and they aren't long in coming. Turns out that Rebney, 76 now and going blind, is a self-described "hermit" living in a cabin deep in the woods of Northern California.

There we meet him, only to discover that, older but hardly wiser, the grumpy guy still swears a lot, is fond of misusing big words like "historicity" and, like most misanthropes, has an inflated opinion of his own intelligence and an impoverished one of humankind's. Fittingly, he once worked as a journalist.

Beyond that, Steinbauer has no luck prying loose any info about Rebney's past. Even basic queries about birthplace, upbringing, marriage and children are met with his patented four-letter reply.

When the director laments, "I feel like I've stepped into the Winnebago Man outtakes," we can only concur. At this wearisome juncture, the doc seems pointless and its subject tedious - better to have left him to drift in cyberspace, a raging black hole in the electronic galaxy.

Happily, a redemption of sorts - for coot and movie alike - arrives at the climax. Rebney is packed off to attend the "Found Footage Film Festival" in San Francisco, where his adoring fans gather in a small but packed theatre, prepared to salute him with encomiums such as, "He's everybody's angry grandpa," and, "I hope he's alive and well and still bitter."

Well, under the glare of such warm praise, damned if the misanthrope doesn't soften. A smile flickers across his pursed lips; a sparkle flashes in his filmy eyes. Suddenly, humankind has grown a lot smarter, his burden a lot lighter, and Jack the Angry Man has morphed into Jack the Everyman. Like the rest of us, he just needed a little love.

Winnebago Man

  • Directed by Ben Steinbauer
  • Starring Jack Rebney
  • Classification: 14A