dir: Bobcat Goldthwait
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The name Bobcat Goldthwait is not one that resonates in the hall of fame of respected comedy directors. The main reason is that there isn’t a hall, alcove or basement of fame of respected directors of comedies, since there are so few of them, so few in fact that they could all fit in a broom closet, bathroom or crawlspace with room to spare.
It’s a name that probably doesn’t come up in common public discourse, or in personal conversations between lovers in bed post-coitally “You really Bobcatted my Goldthwait good tonight, baby”, or a name used by the Pope in his annual chastising pronouncements, or by the Queen in her Christmas address.
In fact, anyone under thirty has probably never heard of him, and those over thirty wish they could forget him and his eardrum shredding voice.
Which is a shame, because his long career as a standup comedian, his brief career as a successful actor in Police Academy films, and the intervening years where he struggled for meaning and money meant that he made the shift over to directing films, with some success. And so here he directs Robin Williams in a flick that looks for all the world like a comedy, again, with some success.
None of Goldthwait’s flicks have been anything less than very dark comedies, but most of his work in the last couple of decades has been television comedy, everything from The Chappelle Show to that show with half naked girls jumping on trampolines that you’ve never watched unless you’ve got cable, so whether he was every a tremendously funny guy is irrelevant. He knows funny. Now, when he actually gets to make movies, they seem, for all intents and purposes, to be standard kinds of flicks, except that they generally have at least one element in them so dark by its very nature that it virtually precludes any possibility of commercial success.
Still, that’s not a benchmark that matters to me, since he’s never hit me up for the money to make a movie, so little do I care on that front. But what I can say is that even though there’s nothing really extreme about World’s Greatest Dad, it’s such a nasty premise that I wonder how anyone thought it ever had a chance of setting the box office alight with its ugly misanthropy and multiple felching references.
If you know what that means, then, fine. If you don’t, please don’t search the tubes of the internets to find out, I don’t want to be held responsible for sickening you and bringing new levels of horror into your life.
Robin Williams tones his mania down to give a dramatically credible performance in a flick where he plays not really the world’s greatest dad, but someone who at the very least, is Lance, one of the world’s most disappointed people. His attempts at literary success or even getting published are continually thwarted, his teaching career consists of trying to excite ever dwindling amounts of kids with the delights of poetry, and the one person who seems to like him, fellow teacher Claire (Alexie Gilmore), doesn’t want their liaison known in public.
On top of all this, his teenage son Kyle (Daryl Sabara), is an awful wretch of a human being. He’s stupid, he’s a sexual pervert, and he’s the kind of awful, manipulative fuckwit who would call his own father a fag to his face repeatedly.
We are given so many excruciating examples of how awful Kyle is from beginning to end (of his time in the film, which thankfully isn’t too long). He has absolutely no redeeming features, absolutely none whatsoever for a very necessary and very ultimately funny reason: when Lance accidentally walks in on his son indulging in what I believe is known as autoerotic asphyxiation, it’s foreshadowing of such an obvious nature that the ghost of playwright Anton Chekhov himself should have appeared wielding a gun in Act 1 which would have to be used in Act 3, by the very latest.
Despite Kyle’s unrelenting awfulness and full-strength hateability, Lance tries to be a loving and supportive father, and ends up taking all of Kyle’s abuse and horrific behaviour with forbearance and good humour, in the hope that somehow, in some way, his relationship with his monstrous son will improve, and his son will grow out of being such a misanthropic jerk. In truth we get the feeling that Lance is just a fearful and weak parent, as he seems to be in his other relationships and professionally as well, and that the most he can look forward to is Kyle eventually being jailed somewhere nice in the country, with the occasional visit on special days.
When the inevitable happens, Lance reacts, at first, the way any parent would react, as most parents, even of awful kids, would react. But, and this is where the film really shifts into fairly blasphemous territory, he decides to use this tragedy to his own advantage.
Kyle, a terrible jerk, becomes a symbol upon which everyone pours upon their own meaning, transforming him, through the help of Lance’s lies and writing skills, into a misunderstood genius, a deep soul too complicated and sensitive for the world. He unintentionally transforms the entirety of his school, and propels Lance into a level of prominence that clearly neither of them deserved.
Everyone that hated him now adores him and seek pieces of him to carry as totems, more figuratively than literally, but everyone, from the geeks to the jocks to the self-mutilating cutters think he's Lord Byron reborn (and then re-dead).
It’s this here that’s far darker than any of the perverse shit referred to earlier on in the flick or that Kyle either does or says for our benefit. This manipulation of events by Kyle’s dad, and what the film is trying to say about those who would seek to exploit teen suicide for their own ends, is the real deal, and that’s where the real humour comes from.
Lance is a sad sack of a character, but we do at least sympathise with him. A lot of the humour not connected to the main storyline arises from the actual pathos we might feel for a parent in the situation we initially see, where no amount of effort or self-help advice books can bridge an unbridgeable gap between parent and deviant son. It’s even funnier / sadder when he gets involved in competitive conversations with another teacher who’s also sleeping with the fair Claire, who compares his own experiences visiting his two-year old son for a few hours on the weekend with Lance’s experiences as a single parent of a vile teenager.
The absurd lengths the film goes to in order to make the situation funnier don’t really seem that lengthy or absurd when you compare what the flick is saying can occur, with the shit that actually daily occurs in the media, whether here or in the States. And the flick walks a fine line between keeping it relatable, and making the construction something hilarious beyond the point of incredulity.
The way people seek to mythologise even the most awful people after their deaths is nothing new to anyone who ever saw what happened to monsters once they went to their eternal repose (I’m thinking of Che Guevara, Richard Nixon, Michael Jackson, Princess Diana, hellspawn all). Instead this flick trades on the notion that people are such suckers for these bullshit stereotypes about teenagers and their demons that they’ll buy any of the crap that Lance fabricates on his son’s behalf, no matter how much it sounds like pages cribbed from Catcher in the Rye.
As Lance’s fortunes, class attendance and prospects improve, and Kyle is deified, the uneasy question starts to creep in, as we wonder how far Lance is willing to take this set of circumstances, or how far they are going to be taken out of his control. We wonder as well whether there’s any percentage in relating to and justifying the actions of a man who is committing a fraud far worse than anything his arsehole son ever did, but which has a huge number of benefits to the greater community.
The greatest evil arising from unintended consequences results in a singing and piano playing appearance by middle of the road and classic hits radio mainstay Bruce Hornsby, but I guess neither Kyle nor Lance can really be held responsible for such horror. Still, we wonder how far Lance can take matters, and I guess, in a sense, the film disappoints with an ending that feels like something of a copout, which simultaneously is probably the best way the film could have ended. It’s the ending the flick had to have if Lance was to remain at all tolerable.
I can’t say that it’s really a thigh-slapper of a comedy in the sense that you’ll pop your kidneys laughing or anything, because it’s funnier more in a wry sense than a guffawing sense, but it was still an entertaining movie to watch. It takes to task a lot of the mealy-mouthed bullshit bromides people routinely trot out about parenthood, most of which are calculated to avoid the reality of what a demoralising grind it can be. It ultimately does make the oblique point that even an ineffectual man like Lance can rise up out of an alleged tragedy to make positive changes in his life, but it’s hard to really argue that there’s much positive to take away from any of this, since it’s still, as you’d expect anything with Bobcat Goldthwait’s name appended, a thoroughly dark and misanthropic affair saying much awfulness and very little positive about human nature.
Just the way I like it.
7 times I wondered what was with that bizarre cameo by Krist Novoselic, previously of Nirvana bass playing fame? At least give him a word of dialogue or a bass line to play out of 10
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.” –