World’s Greatest Dad
Whatever happened to Robin Williams? In the last thirteen years he has starred in precisely two good films (Good Will Hunting and One Hour Photo), and if it weren’t for a handful of half-decent cameos and walk-on parts then we might have forgotten his late 80s-early 90s golden age altogether. His fans are, by and large, a forgiving lot, but it takes a lot to make up for License to Wed… Happily, all that puerile nastiness has been cancelled out with the release of World’s Greatest Dad, a deliciously dark and unrelentingly messed up film which, if nothing else, demonstrates how deeply inadvisable it is to combine masturbation with restricting your airflow.
English teacher Lance Clayton (Williams) is a great big failure. Not one of his books has ever been published, his underattended poetry class is on the brink of closure, his improbably hot girlfriend is making eyes at a more successful colleague and his son’s a wanker. I mean this in every sense of the term – Kyle really is a prize bastard, and when he isn’t belittling his dad or leering at girls from school he spends most of his time in close consultation with the widow Palm and her five lovely daughters. That is, of course, until he decides to turn his onanism up to 11 by means of a little auto-erotic asphyxiation and winds up getting choked to death.
When Lance finds his son he can’t bear to let the paramedics find him in such an undistinguished pose, so he rearranges Kyle’s body to make his death look self-inflicted. Crucially, he also writes a suicide note which lays the blame for his son’s suicide squarely at the feet of his thoughtless peers. What he doesn’t expect, however, is for the note to be leaked and become a viral sensation, with students and teachers alike finding solace and inspiration in Lance’s colossal fib. After so many years of being unable to reach an audience, Lance finally has the fame and influence he craves – but can he square his dishonesty with the value-heavy message of ‘Kyle’s’ work?
“You wanna know what I like? I like looking at vaginas. All day long.”
After so many years of insipid comedies, appearing in such an emotionally taxing film took guts on Robin Williams’ part. World’s Greatest Dad is a comedy, but it is a comedy with scenes ranging from crude and borderline offensive (see the quote above) to deeply distressing – the five-minute shot of Lance finding and laying out his son is beautifully scored but otherwise mute, and taken at face value it is horribly, horribly sad. Lance himself is a fairly pathetic character, relentlessly browbeaten and subservient to every other player in his life – Robin Williams does a fine job of portraying him as a fragile character who realises he’s riding a tiger and doesn’t know how to get off. I can even forgive him for his slightly gratuitous use of the trademark Williams twinkle – it’s ingrained now, there’s nothing he can do. The supporting cast is able, although Daryl Sabara is particularly memorable; being an utterly convincing twat is always impressive.
The script clunks at times, but it’s generally reliable and facilitates the film’s pacy and consistent delivery. The unnecessarily cathartic penultimate scene is perhaps a little stylised and unnecessary, but it does mean you get to see Williams’ mighty organ (and my word, is it mighty). Above all, writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait should be proud of so ruthlessly puncturing a repellent and increasingly prevalent convention – the unthinking veneration of the dead, regardless of the specifics of how they lived. World’s Greatest Dad reminds us that the cult of personality surrounding every “angel too sweet for this earth” (yeuch) would be much reduced if we knew that said ‘angel’ had checked out with a belt round his neck and a sock on his cock, and simply for forcing that realisation upon us this is a massively worthwhile film.