Man of the Year (Dirk Shafer)

Rating: * (out of ****)

My girlfriend really wanted to walk out of this film halfway through, and I nearly agreed (especially since we'd gotten in for free, and hence would lose nothing by leaving). I stayed primarily in order to peruse the end credits and make absolutely sure that Man of the Year is as phony as I thought it was. It is. In 1992, Dirk Shafer, who is gay, was crowned Playgirl's "Man of the Year" and spent nearly twelve months feigning heterosexuality to accommodate the magazine's massive publicity blitz -- talk shows, 1-900 lines, "win-a-date-with-Dirk," etc. -- before being outed. An aspiring filmmaker, like everybody else on the planet (yes, including me), he decided to make a movie about his unusual experiences. This was not inherently a bad idea, and there were a couple of equally promising directions in which he could have taken the material: 1) a typical interview-based factual account, focusing on issues of deception, discrimination, human sexuality, and so forth; 2) a riotous mock-documentary, in the This Is Spinal Tap vein, which would look at the affair from an ironic, comic viewpoint. Shafer, incredibly, did neither. Instead, he opted to combine the two, hiring a lot of bad actors (though he, significantly, plays himself -- he's also an aspiring actor) to portray key participants -- his parents, his friends, Playgirl staff members, fake talk show hosts, crazed fans, etc. -- and "re-creating" the events in question. The tone is utterly wrong from the get-go; Shafer essentially wants to make the "real" documentary he might have made at the time, had he been able to do so, and simultaneously throw in a lot of jokes borne from hindsight. The acting is almost uniformly terrible, and bizarrely inconsistent; the Playgirl staffers are grotesque caricatures, while the actor playing his mom tries for quiet naturalism (she had me fooled for a while, and might have pulled it off had she not had to toss off Dirk's pithy one-liners). By the time Shafer's "friend" (another actor) was dying of AIDS, and Shafer himself was pretending to hide from his camera crew, I was feeling the urge to hurl a 35mm print of The Celluloid Closet at the screen. Shafer apparently couldn't decide whether he wanted to make a funny film or a serious one; by hedging his bets, he ended up making neither. I'd advise him not to quit his day job.