July 30, 2009

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World’s Greatest Dad (R)
Robin Williams is the schlubby father of a truly horrible teenage son in World’s Greatest Dad, an uneven but occasionally hilarious dark comedy.

A dark comedy that is written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait — a fact that, if you knew nothing else about this movie, could probably help you determine whether you wanted to see it or not.

Lance Clayton (Williams) is a divorced English teacher at high school where he teaches the most unpopular English elective (a poetry class attended by a handful of kids) and is the father of a most unpopular student, the foul-mouthed Kyle (Daryl Sabara). In his spare time, Lance writes novels and articles that are regularly rejected by publishers and dates fellow teacher Claire (Alexi Gilmore), a woman he seems to fear is just a bit too far out of his league. This fear is reinforced when Mike Lane (Henry Simmons), a handsome, personable, athletic English teacher whose creative writing class is beloved by students, gets one of his articles published in the New Yorker. We watch Lance crumble just a little inside as Claire praises Mike. But Lance perseveres — writing stories even though no one wants them, dating Claire even though he fears she is attracted to Mike and attempting to forge a relationship with Kyle even though he is a wretched and vile young man, dismissive of anything that isn’t connected to some kinky kind of porn. Indeed, the only person who seems to be able to take Kyle is Andrew (Evan Martin), a quiet boy from a crummy family who seems to appreciate Lance’s attempts to be fatherly more than Kyle does.

It’s nearly impossible for me to go beyond this point without spoiling too much. In a moment of extreme stress, Lance makes a decision which is not on its face horrible but which has surprising consequences for his life. The central joke — dark joke — of the movie is the way Lance reacts (or really, doesn’t react) to the way he’s treated by people when we know that what appears to be true is nearly the opposite of what is true. Williams, the king of the big broad reaction, is actually quite good at offering a small performance in this role which clearly calls for quiet. He can do a lot with just the twitch of his mouth or the exact crinkle of his eyes.

The first part of the movie feels weird — almost amateurish at points and unnaturally action-free. The second part of the movie explains this ill-fitting quality of the first part but it has its own problems. The Big Joke is unraveled in a way that is occasionally repetitive but often also leaves you wishing the movie had done more.

That said, there are some laughs — laughs that come from a dark place but that are sometimes refreshing for the way they aren’t like any other kinds of raunchy or dark humor that you’re likely to see on the big screen. This is definitely not a movie for everyone, but if a certain amount of perverse comedy is OK with you, this movie might be OK with you too. C+

Rated R for language, crude and sexual content, some drug use and disturbing images. Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, World’s Greatest Dad is an hour and 39 minutes long and is distributed by Magnolia Pictures. It is scheduled for release in some theaters in August and is available now through the “Magnolia Pictures” option on Comcast OnDemand.