It was August of 1989 when former broadcast journalist Jack Rebney was hired by Winnebago Industries to be a spokesperson for some of their industrial videos. The shoot days were long, averaging about 12-14 hours, and occurred during a hot and humid Iowa summer. The conditions appeared to have a negative affect on the hired on-camera talent. Cameras rolled as a colorful array of expletives flew out of Rebney’s mouth when he flubbed lines, swatted at the relentless flies swarming around him, or became frustrated with anything else that wasn’t going his way. Bootleg VHS copies of the footage were passed around until the outtakes eventually found a home on YouTube in 2005. Jack Rebney and his bad temper became an internet sensation and almost 20 years later, that outtake video has become one of the most famous viral videos of all time.
Enter filmmaker Ben Steinbauer, a guy mesmerized by the man referred to as "The World’s Angriest RV Salesman." In fact, Ben is so enthralled with Rebney he hires a private investigator to find him and, eventually, makes a connection. Ben visits the 76-year-old Rebney living like a hermit as a caretaker at a fishing resort on a lake in Northern California. The man that Ben meets is the polar opposite of the Rebney from the outtakes. However, filmgoers soon discover that appearances aren’t always what they seem.
Winnebago Man is hilarious as it really captures the essence of Jack Rebney. It’s fascinating because it delves more in-depth about the repercussions of viral culture and internet fame. It is also a surprisingly touching film as we witness the developing relationship between Rebney and Ben. Two other important relationships--one with Rebney’s best friend and another with his dog Buddha--also enrich the film. Throughout the film, we come to realize that the Rebney that lives on the lake is a multi-layered man. Near the end of Winnebago Man, Rebney is invited to the Found Footage Festival and gets an opportunity to connect with his unintended fans, and we see a spark develop in him that wasn’t there at the beginning of the film.
While it is possible that Rebney is being laughed at in these outtakes, I’d like to believe that we who laugh are really chuckling at our own foibles as we project ourselves onto the screen. Perhaps the reason why we find those outtakes so darned funny is that we can completely relate to his experiences during that shoot. We’ve all been where Jack has been, but most of the time the cameras aren’t rolling and we can forget about the trials and tribulations we’d been through on certain occasions.
Winnebago Man is a fabulous example of great storytelling and Jack Rebney has done the world a kindness by letting Ben Steinbauer into his world and sharing it with us.
Note: The editor paid for the movie ticket with her own money and has no ties or affiliations with the film producers