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Death Becomes Smoochy

MOVIE REVIEW
World's Greatest Dad (2009)

7
Magnolia Pictures

It takes less than five minutes to realize that the moniker of “World’s Greatest Dad” could only be bestowed on high-school teacher Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) with the highest sense of irony. That’s about when it becomes apparent that the main character of writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait’s sharp new film – a single father raising teenage son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) – has failed at his most important job.

A smarmy, entitled snob with a filthy mouth, filthier mind and no regard for the feelings of others, Kyle could charitably be described as a monster. When we first encounter him, he’s furiously masturbating to Internet porn and rudely berating his father who mistakenly interrupts him. Things don’t get much better; and when a trauma best left unexplained here takes him away from Lance, the father’s life begins to improve; and the core of Mr. Goldthwait’s film, the qualities that make it such an affecting piece of work, take hold.

Despite the punchy advertising and the richly colored suburban chic aesthetic, the film never dapples in the self-important irony of Todd Solondz, and it’s not interested in making a statement only to be applied to conformist Americana. Although it pungently comments on the absurd collective memory warping often spurred by an early death and the naïve credence applied to a byline, the picture works best for a simpler reason: the depth of feeling Messrs. Goldthwait and Williams pour into the story of the coming of age of a middle-aged man. The filmmaker – widely acknowledged for his ability to find the humor in dark situations – trades in familiar conceptual territory here, but his movie works best because of the seriousness and respect with which it treats its protagonist.

The star resists his standard urge to hurdle towards the extremes, giving a modulated performance that offers subtle pleasures as the much put-upon Lance starts to finally look out for himself. Mr. Williams, using his classic clown’s face to convey untold pain and frustration beneath a tight smile, brings the audience along for every small victory the character wins against the nightmarish figures that have served as his suppressors at home and at school. While the idea of a father deriving any sort of a positive from the death of a child seems on the face of it to be outrageous, Mr. Goldthwait deserves commendation for the forthrightness with which he illustrates the fact that some good comes out of every evil and his enthusiasm for the notion that you might as well embrace it and go on living.

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD

Opened on Aug. 21 in New York and Santa Ana, Calif. and on Sept. 24, 2010 in Britain.

Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait; director of photography, Horacio Marquinez; edited by Jason Stewart; music by Gerald Brunskill; production designer, John Paino; produced by Tim Perell, Howard Gertler, Sean McKittrick and Richard Kelly; released by Magnolia Pictures (United States) and The Works (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Robin Williams (Lance), Alexie Gilmore (Clarie), Daryl Sabara (Kyle), Evan Martin (Andrew), Geoff Pierson (Principal Anderson), Henry Simmons (Mike Lane) and Mitzi McCall (Bonnie).

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