World's Greatest Dad
Written and directed by Bobcat GoldthwaitStarring Robin Williams,Daryl Sabara, Alexie Gilmore and Geoffrey PiersonRated R*7*
Goes well with: Heathers, Shakes the Clown, Dead Poets Society
There's never been any doubt that Bobcat Goldthwait is a weird dude. Back when he was doing stand-up, his material was dark, disturbing and either insane or insanely funny, depending on your sensibilities. His directorial debut was Shakes the Clown, starring himself as an alcoholic clown who works children's birthday parties, and, more recently, he made Stay, a romantic comedy about a woman who goes down on her dog. You get the picture.
It'd be somewhat inaccurate to call his new movie, World's Greatest Dad, a more mature effort, because it contains as much nastiness as his other films. But in some ways, it's more mature because it tackles some serious subject matter and actually provides Robin Williams with his best role in years.
Williams, who's had a casual, longstanding collaboration with Goldthwait, is Lance Clayton, a writer who's had everything he's ever submitted to any publication rejected. He teaches an unpopular high-school poetry course that's on the verge of being cut and lives with his 15-year-old son Kyle (Daryl Sabara). Teens can be tough to deal with, but they don't come much tougher than Kyle, who is, to put it mildly, a repellent little shit. He's horrific to be around, only partially due to his all-consuming obsession with sex and porn. (And not even good porn—he's into that nasty German stuff that's all about, well, shit.) He hates everyone, and everyone hates him back.
So, Lance has that to deal with. Any efforts he makes to reach out to his kid are rebuffed, and to top it off, he's worried that Claire (Alexie Gilmore), his secret art-teacher girlfriend (referred to by Kyle as a TILF), may be having an affair with Mike (Henry Simmons), Lance's colleague, who's younger, better looking and just had his first submission to The New Yorker published. No, things are not going well for Lance.
But then Kyle dies. Yep. That's not a spoiler—watch the trailer and you'll see. Yes, it's an accident involving sex, and it's horrible that the kid is dead, even a kid this rotten. So, before he thinks about what he's doing, Lance writes a suicide note for his poor dead monster of a son. Of course, Kyle being dead makes everyone think differently about him, and when the school newspaper gets said suicide note from the police report and publishes it, suddenly, everyone decides Kyle wasn't so bad after all. And when his journal turns up, a deep, heartfelt piece of work that impacts everyone who reads it, Kyle is posthumously transformed from school pariah to misunderstood saint.
This is where Goldthwait has really plotted his film nicely. Because what's a guy to do? This isn't a question of Lance finally having his writing acknowledged. Even if he struggled to appreciate his own son, Lance doesn't want his son to be remembered as something he wasn't. And yet, dead fake Kyle is having a hugely positive impact on lots of teens. The only one who thinks there's something wrong is Kyle's only friend, Andrew (Evan Martin), who suspects his bud would have at least mentioned something about felching in his last words.
This can't end well. And, sadly, that's the biggest problem with Goldthwait's movie—he has a tough time coming up with an ending that lives up to the rest of the film. Still, it's brutally funny and sharply satirical, and you really feel for Lance, as everyone around him tries to own a part of his dead son, including the gay football player who finally finds the courage to come out to, um, Bruce Hornsby. It's a tough part, but Williams pulls it off by not resorting to the Robin Williams crap he's fallen back on in recent years. Perhaps both he and Goldthwait are maturing.Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you like your online comment to be considered for publication in our print edition? Include your true full name and neighborhood of residence.