Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language, Crude and Sexual Content, some Drug Use and Disturbing Images
Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait
Written by: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Robin Williams, Alexie Gilmore, Daryl Sabara, Evan Martin, Geoff Pierson, Henry Simmons
Dark comedy is a specific subgenre that will either make people laugh or sicken them to no end. I’m the former. I love dark comedy and if it’s done right, it can be nothing short of hysterical. Bobcat Goldthwait (comedian/actor turned director/writer) has a knack for incorporating some really disturbing jokes into his stand-up routines that simultaneously shock and receive an uproar of laughter! WORLD’S GREATEST DAD is Goldthwait’s fourth directorial effort and he hones in on some really unsettling material for this 2009 comedy. It’s bound to turn the stomachs of sensitive viewers, but it does have a remarkable human element under the story as well. I can’t get too specific in details with this review. This is because some of the fun comes from the next unexpected twist around the corner. I will try to be vague enough not to give anything away, but know that this is a dark comedy at it’s darkest with a true point in its center.
Lance Clayton is a high school English teacher that has written many novels, stories, and articles. The only work of his that has been published are a couple of greeting cards, as he gets reject letter after reject letter on a daily basis. Lance is also a single father struggling to raise his douchebag son, Kyle, all while secretly romancing a fellow teacher, Claire. Kyle frequently makes life difficult for his father. Through it all, Lance always loves his son but also wants to strangle the life out of him for being such a jerk. Some plot synopses give away a detail that is better left unknown walking into the film, so all I’ll say is that one night something bad happens and a lie is told. This lie sets in motion a series of unintended consequences that offer Lance a change of lifestyle, but also test his moral compass.
WORLD’S GREATEST DAD is basically a story about a lie that keeps spiraling further out of control and this plot has been seen before in other films. However, Bobcat Goldthwait makes the wise decision of carving out these characters. Robin Williams usually struggles in comedic roles (which is highly ironic given that his stand-up performances are pure gold), but he’s given a more dramatic role here as Lance. This elevates the material to something higher than just a cheap independent comedy that moves through familiar territory. It’s less about outrageous silly scenarios and more about human nature. The character of Kyle is a thorough punk. Daryl Sabara does a wonderful job of bringing the most unpleasant traits out of this little sex-obsessed foul-mouthed asshole and it causes the viewer to feel some real sympathy for Lance’s struggles with this difficult child.
The morality play that primarily is shown in the last hour is a compelling one to watch. It’s not as if certain characters asked for their lie to go out to so many people and cause the insane amount of attention that it brings. In fact, I really felt bad for Lance, though he can come off as a pompous prick himself in a few cases. The film is well paced. Character development is front and center for the first third of the movie. Some may turn the film off within those 30 minutes due to the frustration they feel about these people. Every bit of the time spent with these characters is essential in bringing out the consequences and motions that come later on.
The big thing I take issue with is that I knew where things were heading as soon as this lie began being spread. We’ve seen this kind of story a million times and there are only two ways it can really end. Something should be said about the good execution, because I find the conclusion to be both satisfying and bittersweet. The pure uncomfortable nature of the material may cause many to dislike this film, so I have to vaguely warn you (again not to give anything major away that comes later on) that you have to enjoy really dark comedy to enjoy this film. It’s not outright hilarious, but it’s well-crafted and rings true of certain things. There is a point being made in all of this grim humor and that’s what some of the best comedy does. It moves on from just a mere series of jokes and into pure satire. I’d argue that’s exactly where Bobcat Goldthwait went with this movie. The results aren’t perfect, mainly due to some telegraphed moments that are predictable, but it’s all quite funny to watch.
WORLD’S GREATEST DAD isn’t Bobcat Goldthwait’s best film (that would be GOD BLESS AMERICA), but it’s an interesting and unusual dark comedy. This may follow a familiar formula, but it tells it in a mostly different way. Some people may hate this movie over the content, but I thought it was a solid comedy with a big point to make in its conclusion. It’s rare these days that you see a dark satire starring big actors and directed by talented filmmakers. I recommend checking out WORLD’S GREATEST DAD if you have the stomach for very dark comedy. Also if you like this film, absolutely see GOD BLESS AMERICA (which is a comedic masterpiece).