Here's something you don't hear every day: Sir? Madam? Your child. He is not a blessed miracle of God sent from heaven above. He is not full of promise. He is not underneath it all, a smart kid, a pussycat, an angel. No. He is, in fact, a mouth-breathing brat, an uncommunicative cipher, a selfish unappreciative loafer, an aggressively stupid misfit and a foul-tongued, futureless creep. You don't have to like him. But, please, do love him. Never stop loving him.
And I truly mean love -- without sarcasm. As does writer director Bobcat Goldthwait with his trenchant, wonderfully touching and finely acted World's Greatest Dad, a movie that bravely subverts the sub-genre of "family comedy" by not only daring to offend (and offend for a reason), but daring to break your heart. This is not an easy task.
But Goldthwait, most famous for his gloriously off color Shakes the Clown (a movie that's now a cult classic, but still less regarded in terms of being ahead of the politically incorrect curve...and being smart about it) and the underrated Stay is clever and genuine enough to pull off such a task without being smirky or glib or self satisfied about it. Refreshingly, never once did I feel like he was trying to "shock" me. But perhaps that's because what he shows is real. Kids do say the darndest things like, for instance, "movies are for losers and art fags," (a flatly hilarious line to say in a movie). They also say a lot of other things, far worse things I can't repeat lest I offend your delicate sensibilities or, worse, ruin the humor and surprise of, guess what? Something your child might be saying at this very moment. That's correct -- somewhere, your son is making a rude remark about a girl's genitalia, and if he's creepy enough, directly to her face.
Here that son is the unpleasant Kyle (Daryl Sabara), a kid of no particular genre (not a nerd, not a jock, certainly not popular), a child who, like most teenagers, masturbates, but one who fancies autoerotic asphyxiation, custom pornography, and even the pleasure of watching an old, overweight pack rat neighbor undress. He's not normal-sex obsessed, he's bordering on depraved. His father is a sweet, struggling novelist and high school poetry teacher Lance (Robin Williams), a single dad trying his best to communicate with his mysterious, mind suck of a son (and his son is mysterious -- enough for us to wonder if there's more to him). He also really wants to get published, something that comes into play once the movie veers into a very dark and surprising place, and something I won't reveal here since it's such a ballsy move on the filmmaker's part.
The entire movie, which spins into a monumental lie that reveals fakes are worse than liars (when you see the movie, you'll know what I mean) is ballsy. And it pleases two parties. Those without kids, sick of hearing their friends discussing all of the various wonders of their (ahem) unexceptional children, and those parents enduring a teenager they can barely stand to look at. With that, Goldthwait has crafted a moving work of honest power -- the kind of movie that feels like the book before the movie was made.
But this was not a book but rather pure Goldthwait, who gives the picture modulations in tone that flow from funny to jarring to sweet to purely emotional. Goldthwait isn't making a blanket statement claiming all kids are shit-heels. Clearly, to him, some are in fact quite nice. Some stand up for a girl's honor. Some appreciate a warm gesture from a paternal figure. Some will say thank you for a new computer. Some will watch a zombie movie with their surrogate. Some will also be mawkish frauds, ridiculously dramatic and annoyingly vapid. And parents and adults can be self absorbed jerks, irresponsible drunks and passive aggressive windbags, too. And that balance, coupled with a gentle, yet clever and simultaneously duplicitous and decent performance by a beautifully understated Williams makes the picture wholly unique.
If Bobcat Goldthwait had any modern influences (Terry Zwigoff? Wes Anderson? Todd Solondz?), he has spun this movie into his own creation. And really, Mr. Goldthwait has always been doing this, starting with his comic persona, something many either forgot about or view as a one-shtick novelty act. I never thought so. I always saw something deeper underneath Bobcat. Even as a kid, I sensed something inherently true in his primal man/child, angry and frustrated one second, scared and neurotic the next. A creature who stumbled over words, his voice rising with hysteria and lowering with insecurity, Bobcat's act always touched me, and I felt weirdly protective of him as a wounded child, and then a bit frightened when he really let loose the id, and the struggling, verging-on-violent man would come forth. When he famously set a couch on fire on "The Tonight Show," it was cathartic, funny, scary, embarrassing and weirdly real. Which sums up "World's Greatest Dad" perfectly.
Look back at his act, and you won't be surprised that the man excels at such shifting passions. A movie concerning the harshness and delicacy of adult and adolescent frustration is not a stretch for the once shaky voiced, furiously stuttering, fire-starting Bobcat. He was already an early master.Read more Kim Morgan at her main site Sunset Gun.
Follow Kim Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SunsetGunShot