Complete with spoilers!
A thorough analysis of World’s Greatest Dad, in theaters August 21, comes packaged with strain and restraint. It’s a bleak tragicomedy that reveals a glum plot twist, which barrages you with multifarious feelings. An intense discussion of such would ruin the film for you, so please note the upcoming spoiler tabs.
What begins as a dallying, shrewd observation of modern malfunctioning father-son relationships derails into an expression of unanimous societal narcissism. Though the twist is refreshing technique, the film never quite recovers its deft perception of human behavior.
Oddball ‘80s comedian Bobcat Goldthwait wrote and directed this satire starring Robin Williams as Lance, a failed writer and single father who teaches high school English. His recalcitrant son Kyle (played by Spy Kids’ Daryl Sabara), an attendee of the school, is the absolute worst. The Problem Child in highschooler form, Kyle’s a perverted, spoiled loner who abhors his father and almost all natural hobbies except sexual self-pleasure.
The film starts out entertaining and meandering, with Kyle’s ineptitude and apathy serving as the common punch line. The script is socially conscious of the tricks and verbal prestidigitations of the everyday smart aleck. At the 37-minute mark, the tempo switches up a bit, and the film goes where you don’t expect it.
SPOILER ALERT: After an evening out to dinner with Lance and Claire (Lance’s teacher girlfriend, played by Alexie Gilmore), Kyle commits an embarrassing act of sexual experimentation David Carradine-style n his bedroom, accidentally killing himself. Lance discovers the body and, in recreating his death to look like a suicide, crafts an articulate suicide note that infers Kyle had much to communicate.
From here forward, the script fleshes out Lance in a comparatively less compelling manner and takes a relatively long time to really get its point across about Lance. In the process, it loses its hilarious, rhythmic display of spirited vulgar dialogue previously exhibited.
Lance at one point quotes Simon Pegg, “Death is an impediment not an energy drink” – an appropriate allusion because death indeed drives the plot forward quite momentously.
SPOILER ALERT: The film’s attempt to convey Kyle’s posthumous impact as a misunderstood genius is never quite convincing. The idea that the school students who hated him now revere him is obviously ridiculous, but it’s exploited here rather than effectively critiqued. You initially sympathize with Lance and want him to be a successful writer, and then tragedy strikes, and you definitely don’t. You only feel pity, and this detachment strangles the film’s vitality.
Goldthwait’s reputation stands for more of a name - and a squeaky voice - than a body of work, but with this he’s drawn new attention to himself. The production is certainly higher maintenance than his last indie film Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006), in which he scoured for cast and crew on Craigslist. This wickedly sour tasting from Goldthwait’s warped mind also finally gives something bitter and dogmatic for Williams to work with.
What’s additionally shocking is a major studio’s willingness to get behind a project that depicts the disturbing and the immoral with a gleeful vivacity.
World’s Greatest Dad is an iron-fisted, fearless comedy that strives for full-circle satirical brilliance but shines a lot less bright after dishing out a few hard-to-swallow surprises.
HIPNESS RATING: 6/10
ACTUAL RATING: 5.5/10