World’s Greatest Dad
Queued Up is a new Donnybrook column reviewing everything that one man watches on his Netflix Instant Queue. Ever.
World’s Greatest Dad
2009 | 99 minutes | Dark Comedy
Who knew that it would take Bobcat Goldthwait–yes, that Bobcat Goldthwait, the one from the old Police Academy flicks–to extract some dramatic restraint from the likes of Robin Williams–yes, that Robin Williams, whom most of us associate more with the genie in Aladdin than anything approaching composure.
That surprising turn is precisely what goes down in World’s Greatest Dad, a black comedy written and directed by Goldthwait. The film finds the typically ballistic Williams in perhaps his most subdued role to date starring as Lance, a twerpy but likable high school teacher who has grown utterly disconnected from his son, Kyle.
And maybe disconnection isn’t such a bad thing after all, since Kyle is a snarling, doughy little teenaged shit. Antsy and angsty, he is an over the top, one-sided character by design, with the “side” in question being “asshole.” He surreptitiously takes upskirt photos of his father’s date on his cell phone, for instance, but all of this is a scheme to make the viewer feel better about not caring too much when Kyle accidentally kills himself in an auto-erotic asphyxiation snafu involving those same photographs.
That’s right: Lance’s son dies and not the viewer not supposed to mind much… which is exactly what happens. Kyle’s death is simply the MacGuffin which gets the real plot into gear.
Lance, who is a frustrated would-be novelist, pens a fake suicide note on his son’s behalf in order to spare him the indignity of having expired under such dubious circumstances. What he doesn’t anticipate is how the note, soon published in the school newspaper, will be elevated to the status of gospel, a Caulfield-esque soliloquy in defense of the dejected and misunderstood.
Goldthwait’s direction is strong throughout and there are scenes of real beauty, including an otherwise unimaginable one that features Williams simultaneously running and stripping himself bare in slow motion. There are some lovely barbs delivered throughout the movie, too, like one recurring riff revolving around Bruce Hornsby (Lance loves him, Kyle thinks he’s “a fag”).
However, the laugh lines are more frequently misses than hits. A pervasive sense of thick sarcasm weighs the movie down at many points where a little levity would have gone a long way. Too often Goldthwait’s characters feel wholly unnatural, existing only as stand-ins for particular beliefs or stereotyped personalities. It is almost as though in an effort to distance this project from the mainstream world of comedy films, Goldthwait trod too deeply into the realm of the jaded and cynical.
If World’s Greatest Dad has its share of strikeouts it is at least swinging for the fences, and doing so with a peculiar confidence that makes its scenes memorable if not monumental. It’s worth a peek, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the promises made by its trailer, which offers up a vision of how punchy and effective the feature would have been if rendered as a fifteen minute short.
Watch the trailer for World’s Greatest Dad: