Movie Review: WORLD’S GREATEST DAD

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world's greatest dad
Darko Entertainment
2009
R

“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 made you feel all alone.”

  • Robin Williams stars as Lance Clayton, a man who has learned to settle. He dreamed of being a rich and famous writer, but has only managed to make it as an unpopular high school poetry teacher. His only son Kyle is an insufferable jackass who won’t give his father the time of day. He is dating Claire, the school’s adorable art teacher, but she doesn’t want to get serious, or even acknowledge publicly that they are dating. Then, in the wake of a freak accident, Lance suffers the worst tragedy and the greatest opportunity of his life. He is suddenly faced with the possibility of all the fame, fortune and popularity he ever dreamed of, if he can only live with the knowledge of how he got there.

Bobcat Goldwaith. He’s a rather brilliant comedian, but I think he may be an even more brilliant movie maker. I’m not talking about the movies he was merely an actor in (the less said about Hot To Trot, the better…which reminds me, I need to do a review of Hot To Trot). No, I speak of the movies he’s written, directed and/or produced. These happen to be what you would call “uncomfortable dark comedy”, meaning he manages to take really, really uncomfortable topics and situations, and manages to make you laugh despite that squicky feeling in the pit of your stomach. But, lest you think he’s just being crass for crass’ sake, he actually crafts some subversive meaning underneath all the morbid humor.

I listened to an interview with Bobcat Goldwaith on a local radio morning talk show here in Omaha back in the day, and he was describing World’s Greatest Dad to them, when it was the newest movie he had made at the time. I remember thinking, “this is really, really dark and morbid. I must find this and watch it.” Of course, it tanked at the box office, but I managed to rent it when it was finally released on DVD.

So, Lance Clayton (Robin Williams!) is a high school English teacher and frustrated writer, who is also a single father to his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara!), a 15-year-old misanthrope with a very, very unhealthy addiction to porn. Things are not going well at the high school Lance teaches at: his son is on the verge of being booted out due to his behavior, his romantic relationship with another teacher at the school is utterly pitiful, and another kid is hanging out at his house to avoid his alcoholic mother. Oh, and one night Lance discovers that Kyle has died by way of autoerotic asphyxiation. Too soon to make an INXS joke? Yes? Okay, then. To avoid the stigma of the way he died, Lance then makes it look like Kyle committed suicide. Soon thereafter, the fake suicide note Lance wrote on his son’t computer to complete the facade is published by one of the students on the school’s newspaper, and that strikes such a cord with everyone that suddenly all the students that hated Kyle (which was all of them) started claiming to have been BFF’s and raving as to how deep and intelligent he was. This inspires Lance to strike while the iron’s hot, and write a fake journal that was supposedly his son’s before his death, and publish it. This becomes a phenomenon, and Lance finally gets the adoration he’s always wanted because of this. However, things start getting kind of out of control when he starts gaining national fame and celebrity, and there’s one student that thinks this is kind of fishy. Then, when the school principal decides to rename the school library in Kyle’s honor, things come to a head, and Lance says “I quit” in the manner I really want to go out on: by swimming naked in the school’s swimming pool.

So, let’s go ahead and address the proverbial elephant in the room, here. At the time when I watched this, we were maybe five years away from Robin Williams committing suicide by hanging himself. We had no idea this was going to happen, obviously. For me, this does make it hard for me to want to re-watch World’s Greatest Dad. But, it really shouldn’t, as this isn’t a movie about suicide. It’s a movie about loneliness, the craving for love and acceptance, and the lengths at which we will go to achieve all of this. This is the late, great Robin Williams at his peak best, emanating a pathos that gets under your skin, and while what he does is rather underhanded and despicable, you still get the sense that he did it all out of love for his son, who, it should be pointed out, was not the most lovable kid going. There’s an understatement.

Overall, World’s Greatest Dad is a brilliant dark comedy mixed with solid drama that, unfortunately, many won’t be able to get past the first half hour to truly appreciate. Trust me, though, when I say that you should definitely stick through the movie. It’s one that doesn’t merely go for the feels…it uses the feels as a speed bag while chomping on a cigar and blowing the smoke in your face. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: TOYS

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Toys movie poster20th Century Fox
1992
PG-13

“Oh, yeah! I love jokes. I love all kinds of jokes. But, you knwo what I don’t like? I don’t like people trying to kill me, hurting my family and my friens, and destroying the whole world as I know it. That just doesn’t sit well with me.”

Robin Williams stars as Leslie Zevo, a fun-loving adult who must save his late father’s toy factory from his evil uncle, a war-loving general who builds weapons disguised as toys. Aided by his sister and girlfriend, Leslie sets out to thwart his uncle and restore joy and innocence to their special world.

Back in the 1980s and 90s, Robin Williams proved himself as more than just a comedian in the acting department. He did have dramatic roles early on in his career, but he really didn’t hit his stride until the later part of the 80s onward, in my not-so-humble opinion. I had caught his turn in Dead Poets Society, then caught one of the more underrated Peter Pan adaptations released, Hook, and then his blowup voice work in Aladdin. When the movie Toys was released in late 1992, I held off of watching it in the theater like the afore-mentioned movies. Mainly because I had just transitioned from High School Student to Welcome To The Real World schlub that very year, and wasn’t really seeing a lot of movies in the theater at the time. Not unless it involved a date. Which I did once in a while. Ah, memories.

Anyway, I ended up renting Toys the summer after it was first released, from the small-town gas station that happened to have a small selection of VHS tapes for renting, and watched it at my grandparent’s place. It was…something.

I don’t think I was ready for what Toys ended up being. I don’t think anybody was, really. Even with his award-winning dramatic performances, the name Robin Williams attatched to a movie makes one think of a comedy. Maybe not always a wacky laugh-a-minute kind of comedy, but comedy none-the-less. Even with his dramatic rolls, Williams always had that kind of quirkiness that was uniquely his. The same can be said for his roll in Toys, but this may be an instance where his unique quirkiness couldn’t salvage the hot mess that this movie is.

The best way to describe Toys is a surreal stream of conscience. It tries to go for a whimsical undertone, but it doesn’t really work as well as Tim Burton or Barry Sonnenfield had done previous. Maybe they were trying to go for a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, only with a toy factory and half the charm. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a movie that costarred rapper L. L. Cool J. (that honor goes to the Michael J. Fox / James Woods dud The Hard Way…which I now realize I’ll have to drudge up from my memory banks to do a review of one of these days); here, he plays the adopted son of the evil brother of the owner of the toy factory. He is…adequate. As is everyone, really, if you want to put a fine point on it. If there was one aspect of Toys that I can point to that I liked, that would be Joan Cusack’s character. Mainly because I’m morbidly drawn to weird characters like the one she played here.

Overall, I don’t consider Toys to be a bad movie. It’s just weird and off-putting in not a very good way. I came away from this movie a bit more confused and depressed than I think the movie was trying to go for. It’s worth checking out, just out of curiosity. But beyond that, I don’t see watching this again any time soon.