World's Greatest Dad (2009)
Starring: Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, Alexie Gilmore, Evan Martin
Rating: 7.5 (out of 10)
Here is yet another example of how much better Robin Williams functions as a dramatic actor these days. World's Greatest Dad is funny sometimes, but it is by no means a full-on comedy. Shit goes down here, and Williams' performance is a very solid one as a father put in a very strange position.
Williams plays Lance Clayton, a failed writer who winds up teaching poetry at his son's high school. Lance's life really isn't anything close to what he wishes it could be. He's written several books, but he's never been published. The woman he's dating (another faculty member named Claire) seems more interested in a fellow teacher's basketball games. His son Kyle's only desire in life is to demean him in between masturbation sessions. One night, following a date with Claire that Kyle also attended, Lance sends Kyle home while talking with Claire for awhile. Upon returning home, he discovers Kyle has inadvertently killed himself in an unusual manner.
The following scene is a good one, as we get a look at Lance's emotions and thoughts without Williams having to utter a word of dialogue. We see Lance just completely lose it, and then after a long take of his emotional outburst, we see him write Kyle's suicide note for him in attempt to create depth for his son that was simply never there. All of this takes place while Akron/Family's "You're Already Dead" reminds us that "love is simple." It's probably the most effective scene director Bobcat Goldthwait could have hoped for in such a stark moment. While Lance was perpetually disgusted with his son, this scene makes us privy to the love he felt nonetheless, and it doesn't feel forced or fake.
Upon returning to his school to resume working after a leave of absence, Lance finds that things have changed. For once, people are reading something he's written, but it isn't a book, it's Kyle's suicide note. The note became public domain, and the school's students and faculty alike begin to romanticize Kyle's life and intelligence despite not ever really knowing or liking him. Before long, Lance finds himself penning Kyle's journal, a well-written account of a tortured soul. The problem is, that tortured soul never existed. Nearly every student in the school begins to almost worship Kyle, dedicating their every move to his memory. All the girls want him post-mortem; some even carve his name into their flesh. Suddenly Lance has become a successful writer, but he has done so by using his dead son as a vessel for his work. The only person who thinks anything strange is going on is Andrew, a timid student who was Kyle's only true friend and knows none of this can be real.
World's Greatest Dad does an excellent job showing how the mirror of death often reflects a different image than we saw during life. Regardless of anything a person did while alive, death almost always washes away the negatives. The truth is, Kyle was something of a repugnant person, and no one gave a shit about him while he was alive. This is the same kid who was sent to the principal's office after shouting "that pussy isn't gonna eat itself" to a girl passing by. And yet that's not the Kyle anyone remembers. Death has turned Kyle into a saint and Lance into a martyr. Lance is left to decide whether the attention is really worth it when it comes like this. While Dad stops short of completely going for the throat, it's still a jarring film with some very dark undertones. It's funny, but in the saddest possible way. Not widely released, I hope this movie gains some backing now that it's on DVD.