World’s Greatest Dad
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is the world’s most horrible teenage boy. In the rare moments when he’s not compulsively beating off to his online collection of extremely disgusting porn, he’s making brutally sexist comments to his female classmates. He’s fond of calling anything he dislikes “gay,” including things as wide-ranging as music and movies. He’s still a virgin, and has one (1) friend (played by Evan Martin) who is actually more like a verbal punching bad to him. He berates his father, and takes advantage of his father’s generosity. Sabara, in the type of performance that is often described by critics as “brave,” makes this horrible character chillingly real.
Robin Williams plays Lance, Kyle’s single father. He is a poetry teacher in a public high school, where poetry is hardly paid attention to. He has managed to continue a discreet affair with a pretty fellow teacher (Alexie Gilmore), but she’s hellbent on keeping it a secret, and has taken to flirting with a new, younger, more handsome, more beloved math pro (Henry Simmons). Lance is an aspiring writer, but his books have all been ignored by publishers. Williams winces and barely diffuses his pain. He does have rare moments of candor, as when he escapes to smoke weed with his reclusive neighbor (Mitzi McCall), but is largely beaten down, weakened, and all-around defeated by his station.
Then Kyle is discovered dead after a bout of autoerotic asphyxiation. Presumably to save him that one bit of final shame, Lance decides to restage Kyle’s death as a suicide, complete with a note. When said note accidentally makes its way to the student body, they are astonished at how well-written and insightful it is, and begin to regret treating Kyle the way they did. A cult quickly forms around Kyle. He was secretly a genius. He becomes a tragic hero. Teachers use Kyle’s suicide note as a means to give other students hope.
Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, with “World’s Greatest Dad,” seems to be making a comment on pop martyrdom, and the death cults that form around dead celebrities. When Kurt Cobain was alive, he was a popular entertainer. After he died, he became a brilliant poet who brought about a rock revolution. One also can’t ignore the recent death of Michael Jackson, who was a weirdo and a pedophile and a freak before he died, and reclaimed his coveted title of King of Pop the instant he died.
Also, Lance is caught up in an ethical quandary. After Kyle’s death has reached such a level of popularity, he also pens a journal, claiming it to be his son’s. The journal catches the attention of a national audience. People the country over are moved. His girlfriend finally makes their relationship public, Lance gets offers from publishers, and goes on an Oprah-style program. The only person suspicious is the Martin character, as he knew exactly how shallow and rude Kyle really was. Should Lance continue to exploit his dead son, make money for himself, keep his girlfriend, help depressed students, and move the nation?
Furthermore, if a lie is so helpful to the people (we even get to see previously unhealthy students beginning to make some healthier choices), will outing the truth be the right thing to do?
Knowing Bobcat Goldthwait’s standup humor, I expected his film to go to some pretty dark corners, and to some pretty shocking places. Sadly, the film doesn’t quite have the gumption to go all the way. It brings up the heavy ethical questions, but doesn’t bother to answer them, copping out with an easy-to-understand, but incongruous ending. What was set up to be a truly biting black comedy turns gentle right when it shouldn’t. Also, Goldthwaite seems to think that death by autoerotic asphyxiation is more shocking than it is, when, no doubt, most Internet savvy teenagers got bored of those jokes at age 14.
I still recommend this film to people though, not least because of the great performances. Williams is always best when he’s scaled back, and he gives one of his subtlest performances to date in “World’s Greatest Dad.” Sabara is excellent in how hatable he is.
Also, the film is periodically very funny. Goldthwait has a deadpan in the face of the disgusting that is priceless. I have a feeling he wanted to take his movie further, but it was enjoyable enough being taken so far.