criticWIRE rating: B
“Winnebago Man,” a new documentary directed by Ben Steinbauer, hits theaters today in a limited New York release. As Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter terms it, an example of the new doc sub-genre of “stalker” films, the movie follows (to put it more kindly) the Youtube sensation Jack Rebney, whose face is familiar to some 20 million viewers, despite his never having sought a public life. The popular clip features Redney botching a Winnebago sale commercial with outbursts of profanity, and the movie illustrates one fan’s attempt to find, know, and ‘understand’ the anonymous celebrity. While all reviews thus far find the movie a humorous and telling work of pop-culture, the verdict is out on whether the film’s successes, like Rebney’s viral career, occur despite the director’s intentions.
Honeycutt concludes: “Good fortune smiled on this film, but the feeling persists: This triumph belongs to Rebney, not Steinbauer,” Michelle Orange, writing for Movie|Line states: “At times it’s quite painful to watch; Rebney’s clashing desires for privacy and attention keep him locked in a battle of wills with the director…A human being emerges anyway — Rebney has too much charisma and intelligence to remain a caricature. But a better director would have rewarded Rebney’s seemingly compulsive participation by dropping his own guard a little, and just watching what happens.” Conversely, Scott Weinberg is complimentary to Steinbauer’s vision, and assumes that the film’s authenticity and pith is a result of unusual directorial methods. He writes for Cinematical “A wonderfully “organic” piece of documentary filmmaking (you sense that you’re watching the best stuff unfold just as Steinbauer does, which gives the audience a great “in” to the story), ‘Winnebago Man’ is little more than a brief history of Jack Rebney’s ironic infamy, followed by Steinbauer’s attempts to locate, befriend, and perhaps help the man find out why a million total strangers think he’s so damn funny.”