World’s Greatest Dad Review

(2.5 STARS)

“World’s Greatest Dad” is a gutsy film from rookie filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwaite. It does things with a typically taboo subject (death) that are shocking. It also raises some fascinating questions. Is it better to lionize the dead and gloss over some of the less flattering details of his or her life? Or should one’s life be presented honestly anf frankly no matter how much of a scoundrel he or she was?

But the film too often veers into the realm of half-baked satire. Very little of this motion picture is funny, but it certainly tries to be. I didn’t really know much about “World’s Greatest Dad” before watching it. Afterward, I was surprised by what it does, but more so disappointed by the way everything is presented.

Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) is a struggling writer. He wants desperately to find an audience and write something important, but none of his first five novels have been published. To pay the bills, he teaches poetry at his son’s high school. Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is Lance’s son, as well as a serious pervert who likes to watch old women change, take pictures of his teacher’s underwear, and choke himself while masturbating. He’s also a grade-A asshole, who treats his father and those around him with zero respect. One day, Lance comes home to find Kyle dead of autoerotic asphyxiation. Lance is stunned, and decides to give Kyle a more noble death. He writes a suicide note and tells everyone Kyle hung himself.

When the suicide note accidently becomes public, Kyle becomes admired by his classmates. Realizing he may have finally found his audience, Lance decides to publish “Kyle’s” journal. Soon, girls are asking him for some of Kyle’s things, he is booked on a talk show, all the kid’s at school are wearing shirts with Kyle’s picture, and publishers are clamoring for the rights to the journal. Only Kyle’s friend Andrew (Evan Martin) suspects something is up, for if anyone knew Kyle, it’s Andrew. And Andrew knows Kyle was no writer.

“World’s Greatest Dad” just doesn’t work the way it is presented, which is a shame. The situation is ripe for dark humor, and a satire could have worked, but the comedy here is obvious and not very funny to begin with. Who wants to see two girls fighting over a dead kid’s Bruce Hornsby CD? What’s funny about a gothic girl who likes to give Lance the finger and a football player who, thanks to Kyle, gains the courage to come out of the closet? Instead of honestly examining the murky situatin in which Lance finds himself or going with a full-blown and actually funny satire, Goldthwaite tries to do both. But his inability to commit to one or the other gives “World’s Greatest Dad” a serious tone problem.

The biggest shame is that Robin Williams’ best performance in years is wasted. He makes Lance likeable enough before Kyle dies that we are able to deal with the things he does to take advantage of him after he is dead. He also performs quite well in the very powerful scence in which he finds Kyle’s dead body. There aren’t really any other standouts, but it’s worth noting that Alexie Gilmore is pretty awful as Lance’s fellow teacher and love interest Claire. Her character is all over the place: endearing and sweet before Kyle dies but shallow and self-absorbed after. It’s not a problem that grows unlikeable, but the change happens so abruptly that it feels incredibly forced.

“World’s Greatest Dad” wasn’t seen by many people, which is understandable and not at all surprising, but kind of sad. For all its flaws, it’s still an interesting film, and Williams is great. I hope he continues to do things like this rather than revert to nonsense like “Old Dogs.” That one should be avoided like the plague. This one shouldn’t be avoided, but it shouldn’t be eagerly sought out either. It’s too much of a mixed bag.

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