Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: World's Greatest Dad (2009)

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, Alexie Gilmore

"You didn't like Kyle. I didn't either. I loved him. He was my son. He was also a douchebag."
-Lance Clayton

If your jackass of a son died in an accident while masturbating, what would you do? Because apparently Robin Williams' answer in this movie is to forge a suicide note for him to cover up the embarrassing fact of his actual death. He makes it look like a hanging, and the note he writes turns his formerly hated and outcasted son into a martyr who everyone now worships like a demigod. It also rejuvenates his writing career and makes him famous - even though nobody knows that he wrote the journal that he claims his son wrote. Whatever works for him, I guess.

This movie spends its first half building up the relationship between Lance and his son, played by former Spy Kid Daryl Sabara. The movie really pulls no punches with this character; he is a complete ingrate in every way. He looks at scat porn in his free time, makes lewd comments to the girls at school and has no respect for his father at all. He is made out to be a thoroughly unlikable character and he pretty much is. But when he dies and the fake suicide note that Lance writes is published in the school newspaper, everyone changes their tone. It is quite a scathing commentary on the hypocrisy of high school students. People who were seen bullying him before are now praising him. Even though nobody in this movie gave him a second thought when he was alive, when he's dead, they're all his friends. Typical - and quite despicable, too.

But of course the humorous twist is that he really wasn't some kind of martyr at all, and he really just died while masturbating. It happens in real life with kids who actually were as brilliant, depressive and introspective as Lance makes his son out to be through fake memoirs, but in this movie it's subverted by just throwing all that out entirely. There is - or was - no trace of introspection, intelligence or artistry in this dead boy at all. He was a perverted, degenerate shmuck. The kids, and by extension the whole world, is worshiping nothing more than Lance's own work, as for the first time he has gained fame from something he wrote. It is absolutely hilarious in its morbidity and surreality. Hard to watch at times, sure, but hilarious nonetheless.

It does raise some questions, though, like, why did Lance do what he did? That's the hidden genius of this picture, even beyond the dark satire elements. It's left ambiguous. Did he fake a suicide note for his son to honor the family name? Out of love for his son, not wanting him to be looked upon negatively - or more negatively - in death? Was it an act of mad delusion, out of sheer disbelief that anything so sudden could happen to him at all? It's never directly said. It does clash with the satirical side, though, as does the ending, in which he confesses what he did to the school as they are about to re-name the library in Kyle's honor. His burden has been lifted. But what effect does it have on the satire? It seems conflicting. More fitting for a dramatic film than a black comedy, really.

World's Greatest Dad is not without its flaws, but it is a clever movie, and one that merits watching for anyone who won't be bothered by the excess language and crass mannerisms that crust this strange little pie. For some reason a lot of people can't look past all of that to see what a good movie this is. Their loss, I think. Recommended if you liked Punch Drunk Love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and other similar black comedies. Funny, insightful and sharp as a razor's edge.