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World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009)


     At once determined to flaunt its transgressiveness and tug our heartstrings, Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad is an odd duck of a comedy. These warring impulses are present in almost  every one of its tonally befuddling moments. In many of the film’s early scenes, Lance, a single father and schoolteacher (played by Robin Williams in his comparatively restrained mode), suffers alone as he repeatedly tries to engage his foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed son. Later, the same man weeps while looking at a rack of porn magazines, and gets a hug from the vendor. Goldthwait here acknowledges a certain level of smut inherent in our daily lives, but he has nothing interesting to say about that pervasiveness, even when he begins to investigate a different kind of porn, predicated on our desire to feel close to loss. He can only wring drama from this uncomfortable alliance when he pushes the crude up against the bathetic. Just as pornography discards any semblance of genuine emotion for the sake of sensationalism, so does his script, as it contrives absurdities designed to make us squirm at the expense of insight or even logic.


     World’s Greatest Dad looks marginally better than Goldthwait’s visually flat Sleeping Dogs Lie, but it still feels as if were shot anonymously for television. Editorially, it’s not much more accomplished, relying on an endless number of sequences that are underscored by a quirky score or a bland pop song. As it plods along, the lackluster direction actively sabotages narrative momentum, extending would-be epiphanies past the point of absurdity. Really, though technical shortcomings are minor concerns in a film as fundamentally misguided as this one.


     Goldthwait’s movie tries so desperately to be edgy that it’s hard not to laugh at it. It becomes immediately obvious that in its attempts to establish Lance’s purportedly likable loserdom it will make the rest of the world seem reprehensible. Instead of coming off as compassionate to the sad sack Lance, it feels snide and all too willing to scowl at the goodness in people. With more consistency of vision, or any vision at all, really, World’s Greatest Dad could seen as a statement the about damaged lives that we all live. As is, however, it is a mess. With tearjerker elements then seem misplaced from the start, and an eventual crisis of conscience that is laboriously worked toward but never earned, this is a movie that is predicated on actions that are so reprehensible and calculated that the final emergence of regrets appears to be nothing more than a scriptwriter’s contrivance.



Jeremy Heilman