World's Greatest Dad
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Starring Robin Williams, Alexie Gilmore, Daryl Sabara, Geoff Pierson, Henry Simmons, Evan Martin, Mitzi McCall. (2009, R, 99 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 4, 2009
Goldthwait’s new film sticks with a formula that the comedian and director has mined successfully both onstage and onscreen: Alienate the crowd with an outrageous piece of material or concept and then work hard to win back its love. It worked beautifully in his last film, Sleeping Dogs Lie, in which the protagonist’s admission of an act of bestiality with her pet dog sunders both her upcoming nuptials and relationship with her family. Despite the queasiness brought on by the film’s taboo-blasting concept, Sleeping Dogs Lie is a sweet movie with a benevolent tone. In World’s Greatest Dad, the convention up for ridicule is the valorizing sentimentality we attach to the suicide of a teenager. Goldthwait succeeds in skewering his targets but never really finds his way back to winning over his audience. The film retains an icky tone right up until its cloyingly redemptive final minutes. Goldthwait casts fellow comedian and actor Williams as Lance Clayton, who is a high school teacher, failed novelist, and sole parent of a supremely obnoxious teenager named Kyle (nearly grownup Spy Kid Sabara). Kyle is rude, none-too-bright, and racist; his only interests in life are pornography and masturbation. When Lance discovers his son dead from an act of autoerotic asphyxiation, he impulsively pens an eloquent suicide note and rearranges the body to look as though Kyle had hanged himself. The note ends up getting published in the school newspaper, and all the kids who had formerly regarded Kyle as a “douche bag” now beat their breasts with outpourings of sorrow and belated expressions of friendship. Things continue to escalate to a national level as Lance finally wins a publishing contract – only it’s for his son’s journals, which he ghostwrote, and musician Bruce Hornsby wants to come to town and celebrate Kyle’s misunderstood life in song. Before the film’s final reckoning occurs, though, too many implausible things have occurred for us to accept World’s Greatest Dad at face value. In the real world, most of Lance’s chicanery would have been found out, and no real motivation is provided to explain why he does what he does. And surely, the marketing of this film became more problematic this summer following the death of David Carradine, which turned autoerotic asphyxiation into a household term. World’s Greatest Dad ultimately offers some ironic amusement but wallows too long in the sins of its father.