Eugene Weekly : Movies : 9.24.09


Twisted Messages
Dad cashes in
by Molly Templeton 

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD: Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Cinematography, Horacio Marquínez. Editing, Jason Stewart. Music, Gerald Brunskill. Starring Robin Williams, Alexie Gilmore, Daryl Sabara, Henry Simmons and Geoffrey Pierson. Magnolia Pictures, 2009. R. 99 min.

Robin Williams in World’s Greatest Dad

Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) has an asshole for a kid. Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is an endless stream of dismissal, rage, insult and stupidity who spends most of his time masturbating to Internet porn. Lance wants to be a good dad, but as with everything Lance tries, his success is middling at best: His high school poetry class is poorly attended. His girlfriend — a fellow teacher named Claire (Alexie Gilmore) — doesn’t want to go out in public with him. His semi-rival, Mike (Henry Simmons), has a packed creative writing class and a piece in The New Yorker. But worst of all, Lance’s dreams of being a famous and wealthy writer are constantly dashed by the steady stream of rejections in his mailbox.

The fact that Lance’s dreams are all defined by his desperate need for the approval of others — he wants to be seen, to be admired, to be popular — is probably apparent to everyone but Lance. But after taking just a bit too long to establish the ordinary doldrums of Lance’s life, writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait (Shakes the Clown) visits yet more trauma upon his main character — and kicks his film in the pants. An unfortunate accident provides Lance with a chance to rewrite his life, at least in part, and to transform his son, too. 

World’s Greatest Dad’s highlight comes in the form of a goofy montage during which every high school stereotype of a character — the jock, the goth girl, the prim good student, the nerd — suddenly imagines that the unbearable Kyle was actually on their side. He was just like them! It’s such an absurd notion that it powers the film’s last third, which is mostly a breakneck, often spot-on mockery of both the lengths to which people will go for fame and of the part of pop culture that fetishizes grief and makes heroes of the bereaved and the deceased, deservedly or not. 

At times, World’s Greatest Dad lingers too long in tangential plotlines, but when Goldthwait gets back to high school, where Kyle’s classmates are finding, in the imaginary version of Kyle, reasons to better themselves, the film walks a wonderfully uncomfortable line between ugly reality and the more comfortable, attractive lie a writer has concocted to disguise it.

World’s Greatest Dad opens Friday, Sept. 25, at the Bijou.