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LAist Movie Review: Winnebago Man

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Photo courtesy Kino International.

The clip itself is infamous, even if the man behind the grainy footage is a mystery - he is only Jack Rebney, Winnebago Man. Perhaps more formally, he has the dubious internet distinction as ‘The Angriest Man In The World’ for his expletive-laced tirades on the set of a Winnebago commercial shoot. Now over twenty years old, the hilarious snippets have moved from hand-passed VHS copies to late night cable access infamy and on to several million YouTube views. For a funny video clip that hasn’t slowed down in two decades, it’s all the more mystifying that the man himself, Jack Rebney, has disappeared altogether.

Such is the basis for the new documentary Winnebago Man, which chronicles Ben Steinbauer’s attempt to locate the once-angry Rebney to find out what, if anything, he thinks of his internet fame.

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Mixed in, of course, is the common language of internet privacy and the damaging nature of unintended internet celebrity; this story, however, need only be about one man. As the sleuthy journalistic pieces fall into place, Steinbauer finds himself conducting interviews with the crew from the fateful original commercial - those ultimately responsible for the outtakes and their dissemination. Their unfolding tale of the bootleg video, its fallout for Rebney, and his subsequent disappearance from society, however, start to paint a darker picture than was ever initially intended. As the film progresses - and we won’t give away much here, save to say that Rebney is found alive and... “well”... in a Northern California cabin - it becomes clear that the man from the Winnebago video has a lot more to say than just “f*ck”.

Stylistically, Steinbauer’s Winnebago Man can drag in parts, but well-placed mini-refreshers on the original outtakes that spawned the original manhunt do a great job of keeping things light. And while it’s a shame that more screen time wasn’t given to the hunt for Red-Faced Rebney himself, there’s absolutely no denying the film really gains steam once they find him. At once polarizing, sweet as a lamb, and slightly off kilter, Rebney has a way of lighting it up in front of the camera that will ultimately warm your heart. Yet after the film is over, you’re likely to find yourself questioning the true motives of both camera and man. Is Winnebago Man a charming documentary meant to chronicle the oddities of life in the internet age, as told through the curmudgeonly voice of an aging man? Or is it a real intrusion into the life of a quiet eccentric, a digital pry bar tearing lids off of any old musty Pandora’s box of potential treasure? While both of these avenues are discussed in the film, there may not be a clear answer to be found. Who might be conning who? Is anyone actually hurting anyone else? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

This much we know is true: Winnebago Man makes for an interesting night at the cinema. While certainly not be the ultimate digital age discussion piece, there’s plenty of that already on the ‘net. Besides, the title has always been Winnebago Man, and if nothing else, a healthy dose of Jack Rebney certainly seems to go a long way.

Winnebago Man opens July 16th at Laemmle Sunset 5