Dir/scr: Bobcat Goldthwait. US. 2009. 98 mins.
An Oedipal tale about a man who earns personal satisfaction at the expense of his spectacularly mediocre son, Bobcat Goldthwait’s outrageously-entertaining World’s Greatest Dad is the most fully-sustained and effective of the standup comedian’s three feature films. It sharply merges the director’s toxic and hilarious concepts with the brittle sentimentality of star Robin Williams in producing a movie filled with disquieting and unpredictable comedy.
Goldthwait’s visual style remains undistinguished and his take on teen movie culture veers a bit too closely to movies like Heathers or Jawbreakers but at its most inspired World’s Greatest Dad recalls early John Waters’ movies, particularly the funny blend of outre ideas and scatological humour.
Backed by an enthusiastic Williams, this movie appears the most emotionally accessible of the Goldthwait’s films and should perform well with teenagers and young adult males. Furthermore, the recognition of the star and director should translate to older demographics, particularly on DVD and television. Good notices should help this internationally, where comedy is never so assured.
Williams hilariously takes on his own recent movie image, playing Lance Clayton, a high school English teacher who personifies the dull life. An ambitious writer, his manuscripts are rejected outright by every publisher he submits them to and his poetry classes are poorly attended. Making matters worse, his forlorn affair with the school’s sexy art teacher, Claire (Gilmore), is suddenly threatened by her growing attraction to a rival English instructor (Simmons). Most galling, Lance’s son Kyle (Sabara) is every parent’s worst nightmare, a thoroughly unremarkable screw up and asocial loner.
The movie soon takes a jolting turn when Kyle’s sexual experimentation ends in his accidental death. Lance restages it to appear a suicide, replete with a note berating his classmates for their cruelty and indifference. Lance’s elaborate stunt transforms his son into a martyr of sensitive youth and misunderstood genius and sets up the most explosively funny part of the film as Lance, appearing on a national television talk show, contorts his face into a mask of desperation and embarrassment as he tries to suppress a laugh when asked to talk about his son.
Lane is not mortified by guilt or shame but rather damaged by the fact he is unable to assume proper credit for his greatest literary creation, the series of memoirs attributed to his son. World’s Greatest Dad is the work of a natural satirist which offers a frequently fearless critique of social mores and hypocrisy. If the ending feels a little too standardised, Goldthwait still shows crack timing and allows the verbal and physical gags the necessary space to hit their mark.
Williams proves he is still a potent character actor. His vocal intonations, body movements and facial expressions register the necessary sadness, exhilaration and pain.