More noise than signal

World’s Greatest Dad

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

You don’t really get your recommended daily amount of Bobcat Goldthwait these days, do you? Perhaps I’m showing my age here, but the oddly-voiced comedian seemed to be a fairly regular if perhaps not mainstream talent on the comedy circuit. These days it’s all Peter Kaye and Michael McIntyre and I’ve made myself depressed again.

At any rate, when an opportunity to watch a film directed by him comes along I’m not going to pass it up. Well, I suppose I already did, with Sleeping Dogs Lie and Shakes the Clown, but let’s not allow it to be habit forming. In World’s Greatest Dad, borderline ineffectual poetry teacher Lucas Clayton (Robin Williams) finds himself beset with all the problems of middle age and single fatherhood. The main problem, of course, being his 15 year old son Kyle (Daryl Sabara), who is a chimp.

No, really, I’m fairly sure that the porn obsessed, obnoxious, odious little twerp has gone well beyond the usual teen “difficult” phase and well into the sub-human. He’s on the verge of being drummed out of school for being such a tool, which would obviously not reflect well on his father.

Lucas’ relationship with fellow teacher Claire (Alexie Gilmore) also seems to be in peril, at least in his own mind. When added to his continuing failure to get his own work published, life doesn’t seem like it could get much worse for him. Then his son dies in an auto-erotic asphyxiation incident.

After his initial shock and grief, he decides that it might be better for all concerned if it’s not made public knowledge that Kyle had “done a Hutchence”, so he re-stages the scene to look like a suicide, typing an eloquent suicide note to allay any suspicions.

Turns out that Kyle is a lot more useful to society as a whole dead, rather than alive. The text of the suicide note is accidentally released, but the whole school takes this as a trigger to bond together, talk about issues troubling them, and in general help each other become better people.

What starts out as a simple enough lie to protect his son’s memory soon turns into a wholesale posthumous rebrand of his son’s image, as he becomes close to beatification. If we weren’t already into dubious moral territory, Lucas crosses over that border in grand style when he passes off some of his writing as Kyle’s journal. Things only snowball from there.

Now, while it may not be immediately apparent from the above, this is a comedy and it’s being played for laughs. In the main, played for without getting, but there’s certainly enough guts and determination on display to earn a score draw. Actually, hang on, I think I’m getting confused with a World Cup Match. Let’s try that again.

To our immense relief, it’s the more considered, deliberate Robin Williams of One Hour Photo and Insomnia that’s shown up for this film, not the wildly gesticulating madman that serves Williams so well on stage and so poorly on screen. For once, he’s the calm centre of the whirlwind of increasingly outlandish societal behaviour around him rather than the screaming dervish causing it, and this reversal serves the film well.

Unfortunately that, and the massively, deliberately irritating performance from Sabara’s Kyle, are the only aspects of the film that jump out as being worthy of comment. For a comedy, it manages to be consistently entertaining, if not outright hilarious. I’ve certainly sat through films that call themselves comedies where I have laughed far, far less, but that does not in itself act as much of a recommendation when I’ve seen films I’ve laughed far more at.

It’s not a film to be actively avoided by any means, and it’s a likeable enough film. It’s just not a comedy that’s consistently funny enough to recommend you take great efforts to see.

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