In 1989, a man named Jack Rebney endured the summer heat in Iowa to shoot an industrial film for the motor home company Winnebago. Between takes for an otherwise cheery RV sales video, Rebney flubbed lines, shouted in frustration, and blurted obscenities, unknowingly contributing to a sizzle reel of hilarious proportions.
The VHS tape was copied countless times and swapped amongst friends until the introduction of YouTube in 2005, when Rebney’s profane outtakes truly went viral. But the video’s millions of viewers never knew Jack’s real name, instead dubbing him “The Angriest Man in the World” or simply Winnebago Man.
First time filmmaker Ben Steinbauer was one of the tape’s early disciples before a growing curiosity compelled him to embark on a mission to solve the video’s unanswered questions. Who was this man? Why was he so angry? Was he aware of his Internet celebrity status? And if so, what did he feel about his illustrious title?
After establishing Rebney’s reputation and an exhaustive explanation of his exhaustive search, Steinbauer locates Rebney, now a recluse pushing 80 and nearly blind, who turns out to be a rather average uninteresting person, in addition to being predictably grumpy.
With his initial questions answered, Steinbauer further injects himself into the documentary, becoming an active participant seemingly in a conscious effort to coax another half-cocked rant or steer the story in his desired direction. “I feel like I’ve stepped into the Winnebago Man outtakes,” Steinbauer confesses just before prompting Rebney for another pouting political tirade.
Steinbauer posits general questions about our collective schadenfreude and the Web’s harmful effects on its unsuspecting subjects, while focusing his attention firmly on just one of countless other people ridiculed or embarrassed on the Internet. It turns out Rebney wasn’t too thrilled with being the butt of a joke for millions of YouTube visitors. Go figure.
Without a cohesive purpose or an eye for the bigger picture, the doc wanders through its ambivalent messages about our culture as much as it does through Rebney’s personal tale. A trip to a Found Footage Film Festival provides little redemption for the “Angriest Man,” where he performs his crotchety shtick for a delighted, anticipatory audience.
But, just as an over-explained joke dampens the enjoyment, Winnebago Man‘s peek behind the curtain of genuinely funny, out-of-context entertainment is a downer. Throughout the process, Rebney constantly wonders aloud why anyone would make a documentary about him or, more importantly, why anyone would care. Unless you were as enamored by the Winnebago Man as Steinbauer, you might find yourself asking those same questions.
DVD Special Features:
The complete 25-minute Winnebago industrial sale video, featuring Jack Rebney
An NYC theatrical premiere featurette where fellow documentarian Michael Moore and comedian Jeff Garlin introduce the film and a post-screening Q&A with Rebney and Steinbauer.
Two deleted scenes and a special message from Jack Rebney