Fans of twisted comedies in general – and 1980s’ standup turned filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait in particular – shouldn’t miss ”World’s Greatest Dad,” released on DVD last week. Since the movie stars longtime Goldthwait pal Robin Williams, you’d be forgiven for assuming “Dad” is one more in the long line of shitty corporate factory yukfests churned out every couple of years by Williams, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, and other past-their-prime clowns. With an exec producer credit from Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko”), “Dad” isn’t a great movie, but the best moments make it a must see for anyone who enjoys the sensation of laughing and squirming uncomfortably at the same time.
Williams stars as a sad-sack high school English teacher and overwhelmed single parent who can’t sell the novels he writes on the side. His life is a disappointment from every angle. His tentative romance with a flirtatious colleague (Alexie Gilmore) must be kept secret because of the school policy on workplace relationships. His teenage son (Daryl Sabara) is possibly the most repellent male adolescent movie character you’ve seen in a while: Mean-spirited, selfish, manipulative, sarcastic, and obsessed with stomach-churning varieties of online porn. With his sweaty skin, pop-out eyes, and perpetually gaping mouth, Sabara plays this sleazy dim bulb teen with enough relish to prompt less committed viewers to hit the remote’s “off” button before twenty minutes are up.
If you’re a fan of Goldthwait’s previous efforts ”Shakes the Clown” and the cerebral bestiality rom-com ”Sleeping Dogs Lie”, though, you’ll perservere. To continue (with spoiler alert): Sabara’s character meets a grotesque but not unexpected fate that allows his father’s unappreciated literary talents to shine – albeit as the ghost writer of his son’s fake suicide note and diary. “World’s Greatest Dad” then turns into a meditation on how intensely people crave stories of profound suffering and tragic inspiration – even if they come from a 16 year old putz whose dark, nasty heart is made fraudulently pure and sold through a slick marketing campaign.
I don’t want to overpraise “World’s Greatest Dad”: The movie is sluggish in parts and Goldthwait’s trademark mix of extreme sour and sweet moods doesn’t always gel. Still, the nervous laughs are plentiful and the performances are top-shelf, especially Robin Williams’ minimalist lead turn – audiences forget how expertly he can navigate between comedy and pathos with only subtle changes in his face and voice. Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait, who gets better with each new film, fuels his own very sick sense of humor with empathy rather than sadism. Well worth a look.