Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robin Williams, Alexie Gilmore, Daryl Sabara, Geoff Pierson, Henry Simmons, Mitzi McCall, Tom Kenny, Bruce Hornsby, Lorraine Nicholson, Bobcat Goldthwait
Written by: Bobcat Goldthwait
Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait
MPAA Rating: R for language, crude and sexual content, some drug use and disturbing images
Running Time: 99
Date: 04/25/2009

World's Greatest Dad (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Father and Spun

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Bobcat Goldthwait's third theatrical feature after Shakes the Clown (1992) and Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006) has Robin Williams as its star, and looks to get a much bigger release, even if the comedy is so dark it will be relegated to sleeper or cult status at best. Williams stars in his best role since Insomnia (2002) as Lance Clayton, a high school poetry teacher and single father who is also a failed writer, having written several books and never published a word. He also happens to be saddled with the worst teenager ever committed to film. Even Lance doesn't hesitate to call him a "douchebag" in front of the entire school, even after Kyle is dead. Yes, teenage son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) dies, from autoerotic asphyxiation, while masturbating. Lance hates to see his son go out in such an embarrassing way, so he writes a fake suicide note and rigs it to look like Kyle took his own life. The suicide note gets out and everyone is stunned by its poetry and power. People who never paid any attention to Kyle now claim to have been his best friend. (One of the funniest jokes is when people start asking Lance about Kyle's favorite music; Kyle claimed to hate music, so Lance suggests Bruce Hornsby.)

Lance follows up the suicide note with a complete journal of Kyle's "experiences," which gets published. Lance even discovers that his girlfriend and fellow teacher, Claire (Alexie Gilmore) seems more interested in him and that life seems to be going pretty good. The only problem is that Kyle's actual best friend, Andrew (Evan Martin), knows that Kyle was indeed a douchebag and was incapable of writing any of the things that he was supposed to have written. Goldthwait's direction is superbly subtle, and the movie plays out, scene by scene, in such a sweet, innocuous way that you might not even realize until it's over just how dark it really gets. Likewise, Williams gives one of his most nuanced performances. In one highlight, he finds himself on a talk show; when the host starts asking insipid questions, he responds with a kind of insane, squeaking laugh that the host mistakes for crying. Some of these same themes have been covered, snappier and livelier, in films like Heathers, and World's Greatest Dad has one too may "music video" montages, but Goldthwait's film has an interesting attitude all its own. Goldthwait appears in one scene as a limo driver.

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