Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait
Premise: A high school English teacher (Robin Williams) puts up with his monstrous teenage son (Daryl Sabara) until the teen accidentally kills himself. Rather than release the truth, the teacher fabricates a suicide note and later a journal that is published and turns the teacher and his deceased son into a celebrity.
What Works: Over the past decade a lot of comedies have attempted to outdo one another with gross out, I-can’t-believe-you-went-there moments, mostly involving nudity or graphic sexuality. World’s Greatest Dad participates in this but rather than milking the shock factor of sexual taboos, this film dares the audience to keep laughing at things that are truly awful and yet sacrosanct in the culture. The film is a brutal portrayal of fatherhood; Robin Williams’ character does his best to be a good dad but his kindly efforts have no effect on his son. The teen is absolutely relentless in deliberately hurting his father’s feelings and Sabara’s wonderful performance hints at all kinds of underlying issues like insecurity and repressed homosexuality. But the film walks the line between hinting at those issues while not using them as an excuse for his behavior. World’s Greatest Dad suggests that even a good father could be helpless against the thoughtless and self-destructive tendencies of adolescence and that is a subversive message to send amidst all the Hollywood stories that elevate and mythologize parenthood into some kind of nirvana. World’s Greatest Dad extends that criticism into the second half of the film, as Williams’ character becomes a celebrity due to the publication of the fabricated journal. Here the film takes a satirical route, sending up the nature of celebrity and the way people are turned into media figures that no longer represent who the person was in life.
What Doesn’t: World’s Greatest Dad is a Bobcat Goldthwait picture and viewers unfamiliar with the comic and his mordant sense of humor are likely to be turned off by the film. Although Robin Williams provides one of the best performances of his career in this film, he is a long way off from Mrs. Doubtfire and viewers should not expect the high energy, laugh-a-minute performance of Williams’ standup routine.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurette, outtakes and deleted scenes, and a music video.
Bottom Line: World’s Greatest Dad is a terrific piece of filmmaking, although its subject matter and sense of humor will have limited appeal. But for those up for a more challenging grade of comedy, this is it.
Episode: #293 (June 20, 2010)