Winnebago Man

Starring: Jack Rebney Directed by: Ben Steinbauer

Some of my reviews have been criticized – and fairly so – for not really analyzing symbolism and such in movies. I don't tend to enjoy artsy films with hidden meanings, metaphorical stories within stories, allegories, allusions.  The main reason I never pursued a graduate degree in comparative literature is that I didn't see the point of re-reading and re-analyzing The Scarlet Letter, Beowulf and select stories from The Canterbury Tales again.

So it may surprise you this review is for a documentary about an Everyman character.  Of course, he's no Young Goodman Brown.  No, this is Jack Rebney.  Far from Puritan in his vocabulary, this proficiently-swearing symbol of frustration became a viral video icon even before YouTube was a glimmer in the Interwebs.

A reel of outtakes from a corporate Winnebego sales video made Rebney a star.  It's a ~5 minute video with clips of Rebney swearing about forgetting his lines, swearing about the heat, swatting at (and swearing at) flies disrupting the shoot.  It is a tapestry of profanity only the truly crabby at heart can weave together, intermingled with sheer irritation stemming from a difficult task.  Most of us have had days like this, and am personally very happy mine have never been caught on tape.

Unfortunately for Rebney, this film made it to the corporate office and led to the end of his career at Winnebego.  Director Ben Steinbauer decided to seek out the man – now an internet celebrity – and see where life has taken him.

Steinbauer approaches the topic with pop-culture laden curiosity.  Citing examples of other Internet celebrities – particularly those who didn't want the notoriety and experienced significant humiliation because of it, such as Star Wars Kid – he wants to know what became of Rebney.  The man himself is difficult to track down, finally discovered as the caretaker living in the mountains in northern California.  At first he is the picture of calm – a far cry from his video persona.   Just a peaceable old man living in the mountains, enjoying the solitude.

It does not seem like Steinbauer will have a very interesting documentary. Then Rebney contacts him and admits he did not give an accurate portrayal of his true character.  As he and Steinbauer build rapport, he reveals his true semi-cranky self.  However, he is not all bluster – he is an intelligent man with a great vocabulary, an affection for his dog, and a firm belief Dick Cheney has really screwed up the economy.

Though Steinbauer continually presses him to talk more about himself and share his views with his internet fans, Rebney hesitates.  He cannot believe he has die-hard fans, and figures they must all be a bunch of buffoons.  For a second time, the documentary nearly grinds to a halt.

Fortunately, Steinbauer invites Rebney to an event where he will meet his fans.  Reluctantly he goes, assuming he will find a bunch of lowbrows who have nothing better to do than watch stupid videos on the internet – and no, he will not stand around signing autographs.

Winnebego Man is both hilarious and heartwarming, annoying (well, mostly Steinbauer is annoying) and inspiring, and most of all – something Everyman (or Everywoman) who has had a really, really bad day at work can enjoy.

If you:

  • Are crabby
  • Swear a lot
  • Are reasonably intelligent but still like watching stupid videos on YouTube from time to time

Put it in the queue!

If you:

  • Are offended by profanity
  • Are super positive all the time
  • Do not believe Dick Cheney is a buffoon

Don't put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson