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World's Greatest Dad
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by Erik Childress

"When A Spy Kid Becomes A Douchebag"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Bobcat Goldthwait is certainly a talent of many distinct flavors. Many remember him as living up to his name as the stand-up comic and Police Academy regular (his character arc from street punk to officer is documented in parts 2-4) known for his signature bursts of screaming. He’s worked steadily since then, mostly on TV, but in 1991 he embarked upon his first feature as a writer/director and delivered a little cult classic called Shakes the Clown. While it took him a dozen years to make his next film (the hilarious Windy City Heat), he has since become a double invitee to the Sundance Film Festival with a pair of projects that have elevated his brand of audience-squirming humor to heights that brushes off subject matter you may never thought of as taboo since most wouldn’t have the stones to tackle them. Sleeping Dogs Lie (aka Stay) concerned a lovely young woman whose brief experimentation with beastiality eventually forced her to confront the matter with her fiance. World’s Greatest Dad doesn’t plunge into material easily dismissed as merely gross, but in many ways is more darkly uncomfortable because its so successful in the way it tackles it; even as I will tread lightly in how much I reveal.

Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) has a less-than-comfy job teaching high school poetry. He has few students, all disinterested and passing off rock lyrics as assignments. He’s carrying on a clandestine relationship with Claire (Alexie Gilmore), another teacher who appears to be totally into him but is publicly flirty with Mike (Henry Simmons) the tall, handsome and younger creative writing prof. Lance’s many attempts at writing novels have all been turned down and his class seems destined for downsizing. At least though, he has his son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara), whom when we first meet is performing asphyxiated masturbation to internet porn.

Kyle is the turbo-accelerated version of the problem teenager. You thought last year’s model was bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet. He has all but one friend at school; a shy, complete opposite who watches as Kyle makes lewd remarks and gestures to the girls. As bad as he is in social situations (such as taking advantage of an opportunity to produce future spank material from his widowed father’s new girlfriend), he is twice as awful to dad himself. So stand-offish and insulting, we begin to think that Lance’s coffee cup with the titular saying was an actual award rather than a novelty. Kyle would actually have to be imprisoned at Gitmo and “re-educated” in order to compete with Macaulay Culkin for title of The Good Son. Nothing Lance can do will ever endear himself into being a part of Kyle’s life. That is, until his son gets published.

It is here that I am choosing to tread carefully and not reveal too much. Sure, most reviews will likely give away where this film is headed, but as I knew little about it going in other than a potentially twisted single dad tale made by Bobcat Goldthwait, I am hoping for you to have the same experience. The turn World’s Greatest Dad takes around the 40-minute mark may not constitute the necessary spoiler alert, but its such a 90-degree twist that your anticipation of it may lose the necessary reaction that helps define the brand of humor that comes forthwith.

Most films would delicately inch degrees towards drawing Lance and Kyle together. Not Goldthwait though. He is determined to show us a virtually irredeemable little cuss undeserving of his father’s love or the growing success that makes him a sudden sensation amongst a community that would just as easily ignored him or sent him away forever. Just as the hypocrisy amongst his peers grows unbearably phony, we are drawn even closer to Lance despite his behavior during this period which could be deemed inethical at best and tasteless at worst. But we root for him as he takes advantage of his colleagues’ artificial exteriors and pretentious conformity to what society tells us is appropriate behavior once infamy becomes fame. Over the surface of Goldthwait’s dissection of normality though is a lot of great, disturbing laughter; a true test of which comes with Williams’ interview late in the film on an Oprah-like talk show. As he is asked questions, he begins to laugh uncontrollably. We know and understand why he’s laughing, but know he shouldn’t be. When you find yourself at this moment laughing even harder than he is, you understand what Goldthwait has accomplished here.

Williams finds absolutely the right tone for his performance as Lance, playing the role dead straight, almost dramatically (albeit without the thick beard that usually signals Williams in serious mode.) It’s his best work since his psycho double-dip in 1992 with Insomnia and One Hour Photo and that’s paired with Goldthwait’s finest outing as both a writer and director. Windy City Heat may have more big laughs, but the kind of subdued undercurrent of laughter through discomfort that never quite paid off with Sleeping Dogs Lies, builds to great crescendos here and it may not strike you until its all over how delicately he pulls it off. It’s easy to just throw together a parental bonding film and encourage an audience to go home and hug their child. But it’s difficult and brave to have a father admit his son is a douchebag and to make us not just laugh, but applaud.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18220&reviewer=198
originally posted: 01/27/09 11:36:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2009 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2009 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 RiverRun International Film Festival For more in the 2009 RiverRun International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2009 series, click here.

User Comments

8/24/14 ! One of Robin Williams' best movies. 5 stars
6/08/12 matthew thompson Dalldorf Oddly enough, this really is a feel-good movie 5 stars
8/26/09 R. G. Ranade Entertainingly subversive trifle with a terrific ending 4 stars
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  21-Aug-2009 (R)
  DVD: 08-Dec-2009


  DVD: 08-Dec-2009

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