February 14, 2010

#059: World's Greatest Dad

Who doesn't love the comedic genius that is Robin Williams? Well, I definitely don't hate him, but he has done a lot of bad movies over the past decade.  I wasn't optimistic when I heard he was starring in a dark comedy directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.  However, some very positive reviews by critics I respect put World's Greatest Dad on the short list of films I wanted to check out upon dvd release.  I was very excited to find out that Netflix watch instant would have it available just a couple weeks after the dvd came out.
The entire premise of this movie is based on something happening that is not given away at all by the trailers.  I surely didn't know it was going to happen when I started watching the movie.  Even though it takes place halfway through the film, I think it is a pretty big spoiler. I wouldn't have enjoyed the film nearly as much had I known what was going to happen from the start.  That being said, I cannot write about this film with any meaning without giving away this major plot point.  Therefore, if you have not seen this film yet, I would recommend that you watch it asap, then come back and read my thoughts.  I will say that I enjoyed World's Greatest Dad very much, and think it is a pretty great movie.

Okay, now we will get in to spoilers.  This film tells the story of Lance Clayton, a teacher and failed novelist.  His son is Kyle, who also happens to be the worst asshole kid in the world.  Kyle has no redeeming qualities. He is constantly a prick, and everybody hates him.  He is unappreciative of everything his father does for him. The only thing he cares about is sitting at his computer and looking at porn.  Kyle only has one friend, and he treats him like crap most of the time.

After a date with his girlfriend, Lance comes home to find his son dead.  Kyle has accidentally killed himself in an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation.  In an emotional moment Lance makes the decision to stage his son's body as if he had hanged himself.  He then composes a suicide note and submits it as evidence.  When the kids at school hear of Kyle's death, and the note he left behind, he becomes a hero of sorts.  Kyle is now beloved for traits he never possessed, and feelings he never felt.  Suddenly all of the people who hated him most are now grieving his early departure from this earth.  Lance is embraced by the students and community, and he sees the positive impact the suicide note has had on everyone's lives.  He decides to write more, and release it as the private journal his son kept.  It is an instant hit.  He finally gets his worked published, but under the guise of being his son's words.  His life has turned a complete 180 since Kyle's death.  Everything seems to be going Lance's way now.  However, he knows it is all bullshit.

In our society we seem to sanctify the dead.  Look at Michael Jackson.  Overnight he went from creepy pedophile to king of pop.  It is the natural thing to do.  When somebody is gone we aren't going to dwell on their faults, but rather celebrate their positive characteristics.  We probably react this way because we are hoping that when we ourselves die people are willing to overlook our shortcomings.  If we call attention to the iniquities of the dead it might bestow some negative mojo on us.  World's Greatest Dad gives us an example of when the dead doesn't deserve to be glorified, or even respected.  Kyle even died in the midst of a despicable act. However, as viewers we are asked to let the lie slide because the father is able to get a taste of happiness for the first time, albeit tainted.

If you were to read a short synopsis of this film it may come across as  vulgar and shocking.  However, it actually feels very heartfelt and genuine.  While the events may seem bizarre when taken out of context, everything plays out very naturally in the film. It all flowed well and was totally believable.  Bobcat Goldthwait wrote great dialog for his characters, and the film feels very well put together.  For me, this is one of the best performances I have ever seen Robin Williams give. World's Greatest Dad definitely has its crude comedic moments, but underneath is a compelling drama with a sincere message.

I feel like I have given it sufficient praise to make you believe that I legitimately enjoyed this film.  There were a few things that I didn't find as well executed.  The second half of this film consists of Lance capitalizing on the death of his own son by living a lie.  The entire time we are wondering if he is going to come clean.  I had no clue how it would all turn out.  I wanted the best for him, but at some point I got this feeling that he really needed to tell the truth.  As much as he had milked the story, it seemed like it was going to be a very tough and dramatic revelation.  However, when he does tell the truth, he just spits it out then runs away. It is followed by this odd scene of nude high diving which didn't fit with the film.  Also, I could have lived without ever seeing Robin's junk swaying in the water.  The brevity of this pivotal scene felt very anti-climactic, and left me a little disappointed.  It didn't ruin the movie for me at all, but it felt weird.  I don't have anything to support this, but it felt like Goldthwait had written a different ending, and the studio made him change it last minute.  That being said, the final scene of the film was really great, and makes it hard to complain about the ending.

If you have seen World's Greatest Dad I would love to hear your thoughts.  I don't want to over-sell this film, but I felt it was pretty amazing.  I am looking forward to watching it again to see how it holds up to a second viewing.

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