It’s a case of being unable to separate a fictional character from the person who plays him, but it’s difficult to expect great things from a film written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite, best known to ’80s kids as the Muppet-voiced mountain of meat Zed from the police academy films.
Well, the joke’s on us, because World’s Greatest Dad, while flawed, is a fascinatingly bleak comedy that refuses to shy away from life’s most unappealing traits. Robin Williams is the key to its success. He’s on brilliant form as wannabe author Lance Clayton, whose dreams have been destroyed as the years have passed and he’s still just an unsuccessful high-school poetry teacher single-handedly bringing up Kyle, the most obnoxious, hairy-palmed, unlovable teenage brat you could have the misfortune to meet.
This is the Robin Williams of 24 Hour Photo, giving a sublimely subtle performance with just the smallest crinkle of the eyes conveying a whole world of emotional anguish and disappointment, his meek acceptance of his uncommitted non-relationship with a pretty teacher from his school as crushing as his unwavering love for his ungrateful offspring.
So when a tragic masturbation accident opens up a massive opportunity for success, it’s hard not to will him on to a happier life... The film’s main problem is that it’s not as original as it thinks it is. Huge chunks of it mirror Donnie Darko – the ultra-stylised teenage tribes of the school (the goth chick, the metal kid, the jock and the preppy girl are all present and correct), the romanticism of death, the resurrection of ’80s pop stars’ careers – in this case, Bruce Hornsby getting the Tears For Fears treatment.
Meanwhile, Lance’s angst-ridden mid-life rebellion, his reaction to being bullied by his own family and his struggle to find meaning and self respect are pure American Beauty, while the final payoff – despite all the adolescent masturbation and the shock of hearing Mork say ‘fuck’ – is surprisingly conventional despite an existentialist streak a mile wide.
The extras are flimsy too, the outtakes and behind-the-scenes slapped on with little care or much to say, although the music video is a nice touch. Despite this, as an exploration of blind parental love and bad people accidentally doing good things from beyond the grave, World’s Best Dad has plenty to say and a very stylish way of saying it.
Filthy, funny and weirdly moving, Goldthwait pulls no punches. Well worth a look for Williams’ painfully believable performance.