World's Greatest Dad
I've been struggling figuring out how to review this the past few days. It's impossible to properly review this without giving away a major plot point that occurs about 45 minutes into the film. So I'll just throw out the massive spoiler alert just before I get to that and you can decide from there whether or not you want to read on. (If you're Justin you've already seen it so it doesn't matter.)
"World's Greatest Dad" is a deeply cynical and incredibly bilious comedy, but it's cynical about things we ought to be cynical about. Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait's film is the story of Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) and his rotten to the core teenage son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara, setting fire to his "Spy Kids" image). Lance is an unpublished and deeply frustrated author. He teaches an unpopular poetry course at the Seattle high school where Kyle alienates and infuriates the very same students. Every word from Kyle's mouth is vile and hateful. He hates absolutely everything, even music. "The only thing queerer than music," he tells Lance, "are the people who like it."
The only positive thing in Lance's life is his budding relationship with fellow teacher, Claire (Alexie Gilmore). He's uneasy with her friendship with athletic teacher, Mike (Henry Simmons), but he does his best to deal with it. When Lance finally opens up to Kyle that he's been seeing Claire, Kyle's response is unsurprisingly crass. "She's a TILF!" Against his better judgment, Lance suggests they all go out to dinner. Kyle's horrified, declaring, "Being seen in public with one teacher is bad enough. Two is AIDS!" Dinner goes a bit better than Lance expected but Kyle is still Kyle. (On a side note it's just wonderful to see that this was actually shot in Seattle. The dinner scene was shot at the Rusty Pelican, a place I've eaten at a number of times. Not to mention Lance can be seen exiting the Guild 45th in an earlier scene. I can't even begin to count the number of movies I've seen there. For once it's not Vancouver pretending to be Seattle. It's the real deal.)
***SPOILER ALERT: Proceed only if you want to know the major plot point.***
After Lance says goodnight to Claire he finds Kyle in his room dead. Instead of admitting to his son's embarrassing accident, Lance makes it look like a suicide and creates a note. This note ends up being the first thing Lance has ever written that has made an impact. Students, fellow teachers, and the principal, all of whom rightly loathed Kyle not only show Lance an outpouring of love, they convince themselves and each other that they thought the world of this awful young man. T-shirts, banners, and tributes of all kind come from virtually the entire student body. Lance's attempt to spare his son posthumous embarrassment has created something remarkably huge. It spins further out of control when Lance creates a journal he tells the world was written by Kyle. This a lie on top of a lie but it seems to actually be a positive thing for kids going through their teenage years. It also becomes Lance's first published work.
What really elevates "World's Greatest Dad" to the heights it achieves, are the very intriguing moral dilemmas that Goldthwait poses. In spite of the lie Lance perpetuates, it does do a surprising amount of good. Will the lie prevent future teen suicides? Does that in some way justify the fiction?
What I found most interesting though, and why I really cannot recommend "World's Greatest Dad" highly enough, is how Goldthwait observes the reaction to Kyle's death. We see it all the time. Someone dies and people who never liked or even cared about that person act as though they have lost someone near and dear to them. Goldthwait points the finger at people who do this in a big way and he should. In the false frenzy of love for Kyle, his only real friend Andrew (Evan Martin), is lost in the shuffle. Andrew is a pretty good kid who knew all of the awful things that Kyle was yet liked him anyway. He's also the one character in the film who doesn't make Kyle's death about himself.
"World's Greatest Dad" is cynical in the smartest and most honest possible way. It's also very very funny. Williams gives one of his best performances. Funny but subdued and real. Sabara in his short screen time creates a character that will go down as a cult movie icon. This is far and away one of the best movies of the year. Goldthwait never loses a handle on the ever important sense of tone, which in this case is like executed like a flawless high wire act.
"World's Greatest Dad" is currently in limited release. In the Seattle area it is playing at the Harvard Exit. (Why not the Guild?) 10/10.