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Non-Review Review: World’s Greatest Dad

It’s hard to talk about World’s Greatest Dad without spoiling it, but I’m going to try. I’m going to try, because – despite the fact that every article discussing the film spoils a fairly key plot development – it’s a movie that’s best seen with relatively little idea of where the plot is going. Bobcat Goldthwait’s satire on fame, the price success and the public’s desire to rewrite an unsavoury history is dark, but never unnecessarily cruel, and feels strangely relevent without ever feeling too forced or unnatural. It’s acerbic and well-observed, without ever being tasteless or needlessly offensive – which is a rather wonderful target for a comedy like this to hit. The fact that Goldthwait has given Williams one of his better roles in recent years is also quite an accomplishment.

Too cruel for school?

Williams plays Lance, a failed writer and single father living with his son, Kyle. Kyle is – to be entirely honest – a horrible human being. He’s a pervert, and not in a slightly cute “Inbetweeners sort of way, but in a “that kid is going to go on a sex offenders register of some kind” way. The movie doesn’t ignore the fact that Kyle is a selfish and egotistical brat who is described by his best friend as “kind of dumb.” Daryl Sabara is great as Kyle, in a wonderfully loud and “out there” performance, with a script that seems intended to convince us that Kyle is a complete irredeemable teenager.

And a huge amount of the fun of the script comes from watching the characters try to dance around that fact, trying to pretend he’s a normal enough kid, while dealing with his incredibly aggressive and misogynistic verbal assaults. Lance’s girlfriend claims that she hopes he likes her, even though Kyle seems to hate everybody. Even the principal of the school, who works with Kyle’s father, tries to delicately argue that Kyle has “a serious development problem” – a very politically correct way of stating that even teenagers can be assholes. Even Lance, Kyle’s father, tries to ignore it, providing to the child’s every need and only rarely bothering to ask, “Jesus Christ, Kyle, what did I do to deserve this?”

In denial about Kyle...

The movie is rather ruthless in its exploration of how various people attempt to exploit Kyle, even his father. It’s fiendishly clever, and more than a little honest, but it’s also quite brave. However, it never seems cruel or vindictive, which is something that must have been quite tough. It helps that – despite the movie’s cynical exterior – Goldthwait gives his movie a solid emotional core, and doesn’t judge his subjects too harshly. You could argue that he isn’t nearly vicious enough, but I liked the fact that the movie never felt bitter, instead making quite a few clever points about how we tend to ignore, rather than confront, serious character defects in certain circumstances.

Robin Williams is great as Lance, a character he brings to life without any funny voices or crazy antics, simply playing the failed writer as a middle-aged man who has watching life and opportunity fly by him. There’s an absolutely brilliant scene where Lance walks in on a handsome younger teacher, who got published in The New Yorker on his first submission. All the other faculty staff crowd around Lance and the other teacher, praising his work and celebrating his accomplishment, while Lance tries desperately to appear genuinely happy for his comrade (rather than cripplingly jealous). And then the newly-published teacher patronisingly assures Lance, “Raising a son is so hard.”

Strange bedfellows...

World’s Greatest Dad is well worth a watch, because it’s a genuinely biting social satire that never feels like it’s going to collapse under its own weight. The very end might seem just a little bit too saccharine or convenient, but majority of film is well-observed and witty, handled with great skill by a wonderful cast and a great writer/director.

2 Responses

  1. I respect films like this a great deal, but when it came out I was dealing with my father’s cancer and couldn’t force myself to watch. But I’ll get around to after reading this.

    • I can understand why it wouldn’t have been the time. I honestly never realised, and am very sorry to hear about it.

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