Dec 30 2009

World’s Greatest Dad

worlds greatest dad

Every year dozens of great films slip through the cracks as far as mainstream audience reception goes.  People are often unwilling to pursue smaller films to their smaller, more rare theatrical presentations, especially if it’s something they haven’t seen many advertisements or media coverage for.  The great thing about the home theater world we live in is that the experience of watching a film at home is almost as good, if not better than the experience of watching it in the theater.  It’s with this in mind that I’d like to highlight a film that just recently went to DVD and Blu-ray after its small theatrical release this year, hoping that some of you will pick up the dark comedic gem that is World’s Greatest Dad, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait and starring Robin Williams.

As with several of my other reviews, I find myself torn about how much of the plot to reveal.  I prefer to view movies knowing as little as possible about them, particularly with regards to their story, and I feel that my readers would benefit from the same type of experience.  Therefore I must say that the big turning point of the film is at the end of its first act, and you won’t truly understand what it is that you are watching until this point.  But the setup is this: Robin Williams plays an unpublished writer who teaches poetry (also unsuccessfully) at the High School where his teenage son also goes.  His son is dumb, perverted, and completely cruel to him, and yet he tries the best he can to be a good father regardless.  The only people who seem to have any appreciation for him are the art teacher at school who he’s having a secret fling with (but might lose to a handsomer, more successful teacher), and his son’s best friend, who’s unhappy home allows to see the effort with which Robin Williams’ character puts forth in his parenting.

Even in these early scenes you can see a lot of brilliance.  Robin Williams’ interactions with Claire, the art teacher are both sweet and simultaneously slightly unsettling.  Balancing two currents such as this is not an easy task, and the sense of dread that comes from the fact that the relationship begins in a place of relative happiness is well used. The interaction between Williams’ Lance and his son Kyle also provide unique spins on classic, almost cliché father/son moments.  A battle over the music in the car could easily have felt old, but somehow the actors and directors have come up with enough character quirks and fresh ways to play out the scene with a new feel.  The first act builds up Lance in a way that we sympathize with him completely, primarily through constant acts of kindness to his son that are repeatedly accepted with quite the opposite of gratitude.

Robin Williams can be a polarizing presence for many viewers, and his films of the last decade have most likely been more miss than hit.  But in this film, he brings his subtler self to the screen, and it works very well.  Lance as a character is more a straight man than comedic dynamo, but Williams still manages to give him a delivery that is often laugh out loud funny and there’s an atmosphere around the character that gives you an impression of condescension towards many of the characters.  Perhaps most importantly, Williams allows sympathy to remain throughout the film, despite the questionable actions of his character as the plot drives on.

Make no mistake, this is a dark comedy, and the reasons why lie largely in the latter two acts (though the horribleness of Kyle as a character is certainly dark and unrelenting on its own).  Balancing comedy with the darker side of human nature is a difficult dance, Goldthwait does so quite brilliantly.  And while doing so, the film manages to make some great commentary on the ways that we as humans act towards each other, the real ways we can be loving towards our family, and the way our art is viewed in different contexts.

It’s certainly not a perfect movie, many of the characters are two-dimensional cut-outs meant to serve a certain purpose, if not for plot, then to represent a certain subset of society or culture.  Even the supporting characters with larger roles are rather one-note, but in a comedy like this one it doesn’t feel unnatural because they deliver their jokes entertainingly and the characters are overall well executed.  Kyle’s best friend Andrew is a particularly interesting presence in the film, as he sort of grounds the antics that tend to build up later.

Because of the nature of the film (and lets face it, the recent occurrence of the holidays) I’m going to keep this review brief.  But let me just say that it comes highly recommended, especially for those who like dark comedies such as Death at a Funeral, Eulogy, or most importantly, Election.  I enjoyed finding a gem that not many others are aware of, and I think you will too.

2 Responses to “World’s Greatest Dad”

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  • Nate Says:

    Speak of the devil; I JUST watched this film for the first time about two days ago.
    While it is Robin Williams’ film, so much of the movie was based on being torn between complete disgust and utter amusement for Kyle, which only made flipping by “Spy Kids” on the television all the more amusing. I will now never be able to think of that kid in any other context than that in which he appeared in “World’s Greatest Dad.”

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