Thursday, September 17, 2009

"World's Greatest Dad" Review

"World's Greatest Dad" stars Robin Williams as Lance Clayton, a high school poetry professor, aspiring novelist, and father. His son Kyle (Daryl Sabara), is an internet masturbatory fetishist with scholastic woes and aggressive social dysfunctions. So when the distinguished young gentleman suffers an accidental suicide while engaged in autoerotic asphyxiation, his father finally gets published--writing a fake suicide note that becomes a local sensation.

The concept is as black and bleak as the best dark comedies', but director Bobcat Goldthwait's screenplay and filmmaking ability fall short of satisfactorily executing the strong premise. The film's greatest oversight is that Goldthwait caters his protagonist to mainstream audience expectation, and despite his moral shortcomings, expects us to like him. It's the reason Clayton inexplicably reveals himself as a fraud in the last act, the reason his decision is met with little to no consequence, and the reason the ending he meets is so eye-rollingly schmaltzy. If there's a reason I'm paying to see a film like "World's Greatest Dad," prototypical narrative sappiness certainly isn't one of them.

Genre heavyweights like Todd Solondz or Alexander Payne know the value of putting the screws to their characters and of the bittersweet ending. "World's Greatest Dad" has a pitch-black veneer with an inoffensive core, offering little of challenging comedic intention or thematic substance bellow the surface. What's funny about the film is in its concepts, what's hackneyed and amateurish about it is everything else.

For one, Goldthwait falls back on montage during several key scenes in the film, which play up the weakness of his cinematography and the lack of resonance in his audio choices. These interludes play as sloppy MTV throwaways that inelegantly and worse, humorlessly, progress the plot. I've made no secret in the past of my disdain for this year's other major dark comedy, "Observe and Report," which "World's Greatest Dad," seems to borrow its Bowie/Queen scored naked-diving resolution from, but at least Jody Hill's full-frontal chase sequence went all the way. Because Goldthwait's scene involves Robin Williams, the only shots that actually feature nudity are handled from a distance with an obvious body double, robbing it of any real scandal.

Williams' casting is generally inexplicable, though I assume the film would have been otherwise unlikely to receive funding. Williams brings only his own clout to the role, which simultaneously dilutes Lance's character. The rest of the cast is similarly unconvincing, and while I have no interest in conventionally likeable characters in a dark comedy, I still expect depth. I can almost get behind Kyle as a one-dimensional jerk-off, but Lance's love interest, Claire (Alexie Gilmore), and rival Mike (Henry Simmons) are insipid caricatures, simply too broad to be funny.

Ultimately, many of these complaints would hold little water if the film was funny, which "World's Greatest Dad" is rarely. It doesn't push the envelope so much as it occasionally nudges it, and on those occasions, might squeeze a laugh or two from you, but the atonality of the piece make its prospective audience difficult to identify. It doesn't pack the punch, deliver the laughs, or offer the honed craft of a Todd Solondz film, and with Solondz himself set to release a new film this year, there's no reason to recommend Goldthwait's. Mike Judge's "Extract" also has more laughs, better characters, and is playing concurrently two blocks away.

But if you're desperate for a black comedy about parenthood, you may be stuck with the old standby, "Serial Mom."


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