Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—World’s Greatest Dad (2009) ***½

R, 99 min.
Director/Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, Alexie Gilmore, Evan Martin, Henry Simmons, Geoff Pierson, Lorraine Nicholson, Mitzi McCall, Tony V., Naomi Glick, Zach Sanchez, Ellie Jamison, Michael Moore, Jermaine Williams

OK. First of all, it’s important that we get a hold of ourselves. Just because we’re worked up that a beloved comedian has been taken away from us, let’s not just jump to the conclusion that a three and a half star review of a movie of his that we’ve never heard of means that we’re going to get an actual good version of “Patch Adams”. “World’s Greatest Dad” is a very dark comedy. It isn’t Robin Williams running around in a dress and a wig putting out the fire on his fake grandma boobs. It isn’t the manic straight man making it seem OK to other straight people that gay people exist, because they’re funny. It isn’t another Mork from Ork teaching us the greeting “Nanu, nanu.” This is a movie that may inform us as to the dark nature of the thoughts that might’ve fueled the genius we all lost.

“World’s Greatest Dad” is one of the best movies made by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, who after his stand-up career began to fade and his imploding stand-up character started to wear thin on audiences, began to make very dark comedies that explore the awkwardness of being human in an increasingly inhumane world. This a movie from the man who turned a child entertainer into a tragic hero in “Shakes the Clown” (1991), tried to make us laugh at bestiality in “Sleeping Dogs Lie” (2006), and satirized our culture’s obsession with reality TV through a wannabe modern day Bonnie and Clyde team in “God Bless America” (2011). We can also blame him a great deal for the success of Jimmy Kimmel.

“World’s Greatest Dad” is one of Glodthwait’s more accessible movies, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be rolling in the aisles with laughter. It’s about a truly good man (played by Williams) who happens to be the father of a truly deplorable teenager. Despite his constant positive influence, the kid is just bad. The kid has no friends in the school where his father also works as a poetry teacher. The father has tried to have several books published without success. When the kid asphyxiates himself during masturbation, the father can’t allow his son to be remembered that way, so he makes it look like a suicide and writes an eloquent suicide note. Suddenly, everyone in the school misses the kid and the father becomes an overnight celebrity because of the son’s touching letter.

The movie is a biting commentary about the social structure of our schools, which informs the entire social structure found throughout American society. Despite its message, at the center of it all is the kindness of a man who can’t catch a break but is willing to help everyone around him cope with imaginary issues. Eventually he does begin to see some reward from his well-intentioned deception, but can he justify his own just reward with the hypocrisy of the people who put him there?

Robin Williams is just about the perfect actor for this material with his innocent nature and quiet calm. His ability to project himself as insignificant is an important tool in turning him into the instrument of significance in a number of other character’s lives, who only care because someone they didn’t really know has died. The ironies of commenting about this film on the eve after Williams’ death are almost too much to handle. Needless to say, “World’s Greatest Dad” is one of the more significant films to come out of the career of a man who had an extremely profound effect on a large number of lives.

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