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World's Greatest Dad
3 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Bobcat Goldthwait

Written By:
Bobcat Goldthwait

Steve Anderson, Matt Clark, Alexie Gilmore, Toby Huss, Tom Kenny, Mitzi McCall, Morgan Murphy, Gary Nelson, Lorraine Nicholson, Geoffrey Pierson, Daryl Sabara, Henry Simmons, Tony V., Jermaine Williams, Robin Williams, Crystal Rainbow Mort, Heidi Barrientes, Breighana Campion, John McCafferty Sr., Jessi Canlas, Max Canlas, Danielle Barnum, Constance Best, Max Canlas, Brittany Christine, Naomi Glick, Deborah Horne, Bruce Hornsby, Ellie Jameson, Evan Martin, John Misner, Michael Thomas Moore, T.J. Newton, Zach Sanchez, Richard Scott, Melissa Pang Stenoien, Mara Stevë, Alles Mist

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World's Greatest Dad (2009)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
July 11th, 2011

Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) always wanted to be a famous writer. He has finished five novels that have all been sent back with rejection notices from publishing firms. He is stuck teaching a high school poetry class that suffers from low enrollment. All the kids take the creative writing course of his much younger, more handsome colleague Mike (Henry Simmons), recently separated from his wife, and very eligible.

But Lance can take some comfort in the fact that he is having an affair with the pretty art teacher Claire (Alexie Gilmore), and their relationship persists, despite an age difference, and the way she slowly begins to spend more time with Mike, going to his basketball games, shopping with him at the mall, enthusiastically reading a story he had published in The New Yorker, a story that was his very first literary submission.

But Lance never seems to hate Mike, or resent his success. At least not openly. Mike lives at home, unmarried, or divorced, or widowed, we are never sure, with his loathsome teenage son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara), a compulsive masturbator with a porn addiction and an apparent learning deficiency; he is a grotesque exaggeration of the moody, rebellious, perpetually horny adolescent male. He thinks about sex all the time, makes rude sexual remarks to the girls at school that pass him in the hallway, frequently expresses his hatred of Lance, and how embarrassed he is to be seen with him.

But Lance loves him, despite his flaws, and repeatedly tries to demonstrate that, taking an active interest in life, and trying to engage him on some fundamental level. Kyle has no admirable or likable qualities. He has one friend, a lonely, quiet kid named Andrew (Evan Martin), whose mother is an alcoholic. Kyle frequently calls Andrew a "f*ggot", which is laced with the kind of homophobic venom that suggests either visceral, mindless hatred, or sexual insecurity. In Kyle's case, it is likely the latter, and "f*ggot" encompasses everything that Kyle disapproves of, including Lance's musical tastes, notably Bruce Hornsby.

One night, Kyle dies a humiliating accidental death by asphyxiation, and Lance makes it look like a traditional suicide, where an unhappy Kyle hanged himself in the closet. He also writes a stunningly eloquent suicide note that quickly goes viral, and Kyle's classmates come to regard him as some sort of teenage martyr, who understood them and what they were going through better than anyone else.

A cult forms around the veneration of Kyle, and Lance realizes that his class has suddenly become the school's most popular, with all the students wanting to know more about Kyle, and Lance uses this to his advantage. He then writes a journal he claims was written by Kyle, a convenient posthumous discovery, which is poised to become a bestseller, and several big publishing reps show an interest in it, and it is widely circulated, and the principal announces that the library will be renamed in Kyle's honor.

Some might accuse Lance of exploiting Kyle's death, but he never quite financially profits from it, and actually seems bothered and disturbed by that prospect, as much as by the illusion he has constructed, portraying Kyle as a shy, sensitive, secretly intelligent kid; Andrew knows better, and slowly starts to suspect the truth. And surely those around Lance, who parasitically attach themselves to the tragedy, are even worse; like the self-serving grief counselor.

The film is a rather bold, brilliant dark comedy from writer-director Bobcat Goldthwaite, pulling few punches, and never softening its tone, as it depicts the merciless world these characters inhabit, where their quirks and egos are amplified. It shifts effortlessly from comedy to drama, with low-key scenes that show some bonding between Andrew and Lance, Lance's interactions with his elderly neighbor, who shares his love of pot brownies and zombie flicks, and Lance's improbable romance with Claire.

Lance never loses our sympathy, despite some of his actions. I was never a fan of Bobcat's "unique" stand-up shtick, which mainly centered on his high-pitched voice, and then he made Shakes the Clown, his-love-it-or-hate-it directorial debut. This is much finer, more coherent, more insightful, and arguably more ferocious, cynical movie. And much depends on the performance of Robin Williams, who has rarely been better.

Williams is one of those enviably versatile actors we once identified exclusively with comedy, stemming from his manic, improvisational style; but his role here owes more to his work in Awakenings and The Fisher King, a comparison I make deliberately, because once again, Williams has a late nude scene, not full-frontal, but we do see his whole backside. In context, this scene is excellent, and cheer-worthy (thanks, as well, to the use of "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie), as Lance finally achieves happiness, and realizes that a new phase of his life has begun.

Williams manages to be mean, miserable, touching, and very funny, individually and all at once, with no visible conflict or contradiction. Daryl Sabara, from Spy Kids, is remarkable, if only in how he channels so much anger and perverted misanthropy. I was not expecting that of him.

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