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Overall Rating

Awesome: 40.91%
Worth A Look59.09%
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3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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World's Greatest Dad
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by Jay Seaver

"The feel-good black comedy of the year!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2009: "World's Greatest Dad" is deliciously black comedy, the sort that revels not just in how horrible the characters can be, but also regularly raises that bar by going for absurdity as well. That's not terribly uncommon; lots of filmmakers, comedians, and other creative types have a bunch of mean jokes inside them. What's kind of amazing about this one is that writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait and star Robin Williams manage to create a great deal of empathy for the title character even as he goes so very wrong.

Williams' Lance Clayton dreams not of being a writer, but of being published (he's got multiple rejection slips for each manuscript). In the meantime, he teaches high-school English at the high school his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) attends, and though the principal has just told him that they'll be dropping his poetry class if enrollment doesn't improve, things aren't all bad. He's got a good thing going with fellow teacher Claire (Alexie Gilmore), and a son who... Well, who quite honestly, is a rude, porn-obsessed jackass. After a night out with Claire, he returns home to find he's lost Kyle. Crushed, and not wanting to face awkward questions, he writes a note to explain; when students respond to it and ask if Kyle had written anything else, Lance fakes a journal. The journal becomes a sensation, and Lance is only too happy to bask in the attention his writing is finally receiving - even if Kyle's best friend Andrew (Evan Martin) questions whether a slow, pervy tool like Kyle could possibly have written it.

Over the course of his career, Robin Williams's most notable roles have been extreme types: He's best known for hyperactive, motormouthed characters in movies that slather the sentiment on with a ladle, but has enough against-type, creepy parts that you can't mention the first without the latter. Here, he finds an unusually good balance between the two. Lance is quick-witted and frequently funny, but never gets so into it that the audience just dismisses it as Williams doing his shtick, but he's also unnerving as he goes down a path that is maybe not quite dark, in the traditional sense, but certainly questionable. The result is that he convinces us that a series of choices that immediately seem wrong also seem, given this situation and this character, reasonable. He's a believable guy amid a fair amount of unbelievable situations.

In some ways, it's a good thing Daryl Sabara makes a relatively early exit; he's dead-on as just the most miserable teenager imaginable, and though we get a few laughs from the discomfort Kyle causes, keeping him around would have irritated the audience too much. Alexie Gilmore is kind of interesting as Claire; she's a character where our perspective on her has to change despite the fact that she stays the same. We start out liking her and never quite lose that. Henry Simmons is funny as a handsome but lovelorn fellow teacher, and Tony V. is good as the school counselor who willingly get sucked into the mania. Evan Martin and Mitzi McCall (as a neighbor) make for pleasant contrasts to the venality around them without becoming obnoxious or self-righteous.

Heck, Goldthwait himself makes a cameo where, believe it or not, he and Robin Williams basically compete to see who can out-deadpan the other. He's best known as a stand-up comic with a shrieking delivery, and while age has perhaps mellowed him a bit - the movie never feels like it's screaming at the audience - he's still bringing a comedian's skills to bear on it. He escalates the recurring jokes continually, and knows how to deliver a punchline, even when the moment is silent. He creates a couple of bizarre moments that are funny and weird but also sad, and makes sure that all his characters are believable, without convenient heroes or villains to push Lance one way or another.

It's not a perfect job, by any means - Lance's zombie-movie fandom, for instance, seems like a generic indie-movie quirk, and we never get a feel for how good a writer he really is. There are also stretches when it feels like we're just noticing Land being sad or carried away, as opposed to watching him do something and getting his emotion from the way he does it. There's not really a bad scene in the movie, just points where we might notice that there's not a lot going on right now.

That's okay, though - we do get to watch Robin Williams hitting the exact right notes during those scenes, after all. Besides, cramming more jokes in could upset the film's fine balance between laughing at people doing questionable things and feeling sympathy for them. If that's the case, I don't mind, since we wind up with cutting humor where the knife is exactly as sharp as it should be.

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originally posted: 05/20/09 11:59:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2009 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2009 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 RiverRun International Film Festival For more in the 2009 RiverRun International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2009 series, click here.

User Comments

8/25/14 ! One of Robin Williams' best movies. 5 stars
6/09/12 matthew thompson Dalldorf Oddly enough, this really is a feel-good movie 5 stars
8/27/09 R. G. Ranade Entertainingly subversive trifle with a terrific ending 4 stars
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  21-Aug-2009 (R)
  DVD: 08-Dec-2009


  DVD: 08-Dec-2009

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