Monday, November 2, 2009

Movie Review: World's Greatest Dad

World’s Greatest Dad ***
Directed By:
Bobcat Goldthwait.
Written By: Bobcat Goldthwait.
Starring: Robin Williams (Lance Clayton), Alexie Gilmore (Claire), Daryl Sabara (Kyle), Evan Martin (Andrew), Ellie Jameson (Jennifer), Naomi Glick (Ginger), Deborah Horne (Dr. Dana), Henry Simmons (Mike Lane), Tony V. (Dr. Pentola), Geoffrey Pierson (Principal Anderson).

Has someone that you hated ever died, and when you read about in the paper you are amazed that the only things said about them are how wonderful they were? No bad people ever seem to die, as no matter who it is, the stories of their death celebrate what a wonderful person they were. But there are people out there who while not evil (like Hitler), are still assholes that no one ever really liked. Why is it that we never read a story about someone that everyone hated?

World’s Greatest Dad looks at this kind of “cult of death” mentality in a different sort of way. Robin Williams plays Lance Clayton, a mild mannered high school teacher, divorced from his wife, and pretty much raising his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) by himself. Kyle is an asshole. He is the kind of kid who would be a bully, if he wasn’t so scrawny and weak. He only has one friend, Andrew (Evan Martin), but even he doesn’t seem to like Kyle very much, He hangs out with him because no one else will, and it’s better than going home to his alcoholic mother. Kyle likes to pretend he is a big shot sexually, and treats all women as if they were nothing more that tits, ass and pussies – which is of course the surest way to ensure that you never actually get laid. He even treats his dad’s new girlfriend, Claire (Alexie Gilmore), a fellow teacher this way. He is the very definition of the term douche bag.

That is until he dies. Kyle likes to asphyxiate himself while masturbating, and one day he takes it a little too far and ends strangling himself to death. Embarrassed by how this will look, Lance makes it look like a suicide, writes a sad, somewhat profound suicide note, then calls the police. No one seems to care that much about Kyle’s death, until that suicide note gets published in the school newspaper. Then all of sudden, every student and teacher starts to see a little bit of themselves in Kyle. He inspires them, and Lance goes from a teacher that is pretty much ignored, into some sort of hero. Because he has been a struggling writer for years, Lance eats up the attention, and cannot help himself from writing Kyle’s “journal”, a sad lament against the society that drove him to suicide. The school eats it up; Lance becomes even more famous and ends up on the Dr. Dana show to talk about his struggle. Publishers want to get Kyle’s journal, and even some of Lance’s work, into publication as quickly as possible.

I admired the way that World’s Greatest Dad told it’s story in an unsentimental way. We cannot help but like Lance, as Williams plays him as a completely sympathetic man at the beginning of the movie. This is another one of his great, understated performances like Insomnia, One Hour Photo or The Night Listener, when the normally manic Williams underplays his character brilliantly. It has to be hard to raise a kid as ungrateful, resentful and just plain cruel as Kyle, but Lance really does try his best. When Kyle dies, he does what I think many parents would do in trying to save not only themselves, but their dead children, from humiliation. But then Lance goes too far. It’s starts off with small things, but gradually becomes bigger and bigger – as he manipulates the people around him with the memory of his dead son. Everyone seems to eat it up though, and he likes the attention that he never got before.

The most brilliant scene in the movie is the one on the Dr. Dana show itself. While describing his “ordeal”, Lance has trouble keeping himself from laughing. Yet, he laughs are mistaken for tears by everyone, except for the people watching the movie who understand it. This is a scene of simply great acting from Williams.

The ending of the movie is appropriate, yet also somewhat disappointing. I felt like writer/director Bobcat Goldthwaite (who I never would have expected to have this in him after seeing his weird standup, and his previous films as a director (Shakes the Clown, about a drunk party clown, and Sleeping Dogs Lies, where the lead actress literally gives a blow job to a dog) had a brilliant idea for a movie here and then didn’t quite follow through on it to the end. Lance’s last speech will likely be the ending that the audience is expecting, and it should be said it is handled rather brilliantly by Williams, yet I felt that Goldthwaite could have, and should have, pushed the ending harder, been a little more cynical like the rest of the movie, if he was going to make the dark comedy classic he obviously set out to make. World’s Greatest Dad is still one of the best black comedies of the year. But if Goldthwaite had of pushed himself just a little harder, it could have been one of the best of the decade.

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