Robin Williams has had a spotty track record. He did Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, and the hilarious dark comedy Death to Smoochy. However, he also did RV and License to Wed, so you can’t just pick any Robin Williams film and bank on its awesomeness. However, I am happy to report that World’s Greatest Dad is one of his awesome.
Robin Williams plays Lance Clayton, a high school English teacher who dreams of being a famous writer. Sadly, he keeps churning out book after book, only to meet an equal number of refusals from publishers. Lance jokes that he’d love to make “a shitload of cash,” but as with most artists, would just love to find an audience. With his son Kyle obnoxiously demeaning any attempts at bonding, the impending demise of his poetry class, and girlfriend Claire’s coziness with other English teacher Michael, life couldn’t be any worse for Lance. When will he get his break?
This is another film that delivers in unexpected ways, so I’m keeping a lid on the rest. Williams’ portrayal of Lance lacks the conviction of psychiatrist Sean from Good Will Hunting or the mad hilarity of Rainbow Randolph in Death to Smoochy. Instead, he’s just a poor sap with moments of comic wit. He isn’t as pathetic as Caden Cotard in Synecdoche, New York, but he acts just weak enough to make us believe in the push-over existence of a character who feels authentic.
However, after sucker punching you with laughter, the film uppercuts you with intriguing themes: an interesting analysis of celebrity culture and the concurring illusions of connectivity to the famous showcases the film’s intelligence and attraction. It also poses questions about truth, ethics and art–for example, when a piece of art affects people’s lives like the asteroid affected the dinosaurs, does the fact that said art was founded on a lie undermine the truth others find within that lie? Should you just keep lying to continue helping people or shatter their worldview by being honest?
This however, is not to say that the film is stuck up its own ass. Daryl Sabara will surely find his way into mainstream comedy culture, based on his portrayal of the uncouth little asshole Kyle, who spews vileness that rivals the most uncomfortable moments of Superbad. And Alexie Gilmore does a great job as Claire, manipulating the audience and Lance alike: does she really like him or is it a charade? Her affections are genuinely endearing, which is all the more confusing when she says she’s “just friends” with Michael…
The film will leave you breathless with laughter, but also stray into the dark, touching, and intellectually engaging. This is all the more impressive since it was written and directed Bobcat Goldthwait, that guy better known for parts in the Police Academy movies and the voice of Foppy the puppet on the tv show Unhappily Ever After… Goldthwait is able to take us deeper into the comedy/drama realm than the recent triumphs of Judd Apatow in Funny People, Knocked Up, and The 40 Year Old Virgin. Where Apatow’s films are touching, Goldthwait is nicking the marrow of human existence with his subtle analysis of relationships and loneliness. I don’t know if World’s Greatest Dad is just a fluke of artistic achievement from Goldthwait, but I will be looking forward to his next film.
World’s Greatest Dad could be one of the best films at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. In a week and a half I can affirm or deny this prediction, but in the mean time, I need to find out when I can see it again.
It appears that the film has already been released theatrically and is available on DVD. Find this film and pass it around, I beseech thee. You will not be disappointed.