I’m a big fan of Robin Williams. I think that he’s one of the most versatile actors working in Hollywood, and his performances in films like Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, and Insomnia prove that although he does a lot of broad family comedies, he’s quite apt at pulling off emotional and much darker roles than what most might be accustomed to seeing,
World’s Greatest Dad is a film that centers on the life of Lance Clayton, a high school poetry teacher who’s struggling in his personal life, as he’s an aspiring yet critically unfulfilled writer. He has a 15-year old son named Kyle, played by Daryl Sabara, and their relationship is rocky to say the least. Kyle is an awkward teen, but one who is very into porn and has auto-erotic tendencies. He only has one friend, Andrew, who he also treats pretty badly, and he is genuinely disliked by everyone in his school.
Then, after a three-way date with Lance, Kyle, and Lance’s secret girlfriend Claire, Lance returns home to find that Kyle has accidentally died while masturbating to photo’s he took of Claire’s underwear at the dinner. Lance is obviously grief stricken, and Williams gives a chilling silent performance of a father who has lost his son. The silence of the scene was a great choice, because without words, you must watch Williams carefully to see the emotion, and he plays it fantastically.
Lance is given the opportunity to cover up the true circumstances behind Kyle’s death and instead makes it look like a suicide instead of an embarrassing accidental death. This includes penning a suicide letter, which becomes immediately popular when another student finds the text of it online. People are left to question their own lives, their relationship with Kyle, and the movie is incredibly smart at showing us the tendencies of some to use death as a means to advance their own status. Everyone suddenly was best friends with Kyle. Girls are suddenly heart broken. People begin to think of him as a smart kid who was just misunderstood.
Writer/Director Bobcat Goldthwait does a terrific job allowing us to see Lance’s good intentions spiraling out of control, as all he initially wanted was to make his son’s death appear to have not under happened such embarrassing circumstances. But soon it is out of his control, and everyone else is using the situation to their own benefit, even Lance himself, as he writes Kyle’s fake journal to be published for the other students when they are all so moved by the suicide letter. But Lance loses control of the situation, and is ultimately faced with a decision. Does he go on living the lie, or tell the truth?
Williams is terrific in this role, and it’s always a treat to watch someone with such talent get a great role with such wonderful material behind it. The script allows for Williams to really dive in head first into a pretty complicated character, as he has to play a grieving father and a responsible teacher all while hiding knowledge about Kyle’s death that only he knows. Williams plays humor with a subtle grace here, and his timing is nearly flawless throughout the film. Even things as simple as his tone and inflection at points are hilarious and at others heartbreaking and honest. A scene at a newsstand where he breaks down crying upon viewing some graphic sexual magazines that his son would’ve loved is funny and felt real at the same time.
Sabara was a major surprise, as Kyle is a prototype for the awkward teen who is completely unmotivated by life and seems to only want to be as big an asshole as possible at every given time. He’s got some pretty hilarious dialogue to work with, and the almost dead-pan way he delivers it only adds to the comical punch. The rest of the cast is adequate and never distracting in awfulness like I’ve come to expect from a lot of independent films.
The direction of Goldthwait is the only slight weakness of the picture, but it’s hardly incriminating. He does a good job of getting the most out of each situation, however there were far too many montages. I myself love a good musical montage in a film, and think they are a great way to advance the story in a short period of time. There are a number of montages in the film, and I would venture to say that most of them actually work and are not distracting. Unfortunately, there are a couple too many, and it just seems like a lazy story-telling device that is relied on a little too much.
This film is an easy way to spend about 90 minutes, and the drastic change in tone after Kyle’s death adds a lot of emotion to a film that could’ve run long in the tooth had it kept on the track it started on. A fantastic performance by Robin Williams, great and crisp dialogue, a number of overall funny situations make this movie enjoyable and quality all at the same time.
Score: 8.0/10 (Good)