I’ve been excited to see this movie ever since I heard about it, because it has what sounds like a hilariously fucked up premise. I really thought it was gonna be a pitch black, ulcer-causingly uncomfortable comedy, and starring Robin Williams (RV, OLD DOGS) just to make it even more upsetting. The director is Bobcat Goldthwait, the subject is (SPOILER) auto-erotic asphyxiation. In fact the reason I didn’t see it until now was because I was planning to see it at the Seattle International Film Festival and then it screened a couple days after David Carradine died.
That spoiler was the first thing I heard about the movie, but it happens maybe halfway through, so I probly shouldn’t have known about it. Anyway, it’s not what it sounds like. Considering that’s what it’s about it’s pretty upbeat.
Williams plays a high school poetry teacher (not the same character from DEAD POETS SOCIETY in my opinion) who has failed for years to get any of his writing published. He’s timid but nice, is dating a hot teacher at school but is not very confident in their relationship. Also he has the worst son ever, just a completely unlikable little bastard prick played by Daryl Sabara (SPY KIDS, POLAR EXPRESS). It’s not very believable that such a nice and understanding father would raise such a despicable scumbag motherfucker, but otherwise this kid is a very accurate portrait of youth. He really has no interests or hobbies other than porn. He mostly talks about anal sex, German shit porn, etc. When his dad tries to talk to him about music he says “music is for fags.” Same goes for movies.
So then one day after making a serious attempt to connect with his son the world’s greatest dad (seriously, SPOILER) discovers the little bastard dead from accidental strangulation during masturbation. And in a real masterstroke of depravity he discovers that the kid was jerking off to upskirt photos he snuck of the dad’s girlfriend during dinner. Charming.
To save himself embarrassment, or to give the kid some kind of dignity that he never came even remotely close to earning, the dad sets it up to look like a suicide, erases the porn and writes a suicide note. The school newspaper ends up getting ahold of the fake letter and printing it, and people in the school who never gave a shit about the kid while he was alive (and with good reason) start seeing dimension in him that was never there, and suddenly everybody was his best friend. He turns into a martyr and an icon, like Tupac or Jim Morrison. So next the dad decides to write a fake journal, which gets published and becomes a media sensation.
This is where I really expected something different. From that premise it sounds like he’s this desperate loser exploiting his son’s death to get a shot at having success as a writer. But it doesn’t really come across that way in the movie. It’s more of an accident, and an act of charity, investing a sensitivity and intelligence into his son’s legacy when really he was just a worthless shithead that everybody should probly be happy is dead instead of out on the streets planning rapes. The dad never seems like a bad guy. The title isn’t as sarcastic as I expected.
I have to admit, the more queasy version sounds alot funnier to me than this movie is. But it’s sort of nice that Goldthwait doesn’t go for the meanest approach to the story. I know everybody wants to rub society’s face in the shit like Dave the Demon saying “this is MY reality, Roger Ebert,” but I think sometimes it’s more admirable to be nice. If you know how to make kind of a sweet story about a guy covering up his douchebag son’s fatal masturbation accident, I say go for it.
I’ve talked to people who thought the movie was hilarious (mostly because of the horrible things the son says), but to me it didn’t even really seem like much of a comedy. I mean, obviously it is, because the movie poster has a white background with red letters. But to me it plays more like a weird drama. There are a couple laughs and clever ideas. I like how blatant he is about using his son’s alleged writings to get his own views across, even using this platform to get goth teens into Bruce Hornsby. And I like how his son’s only friend knows the book is fake because it doesn’t ever mention fisting or felching.
But I think the movie is less successful in its portrayal of the kids at the school becoming obsessed with his dead son, wearing his face on t-shirts and stuff. It’s not at all believable and wasn’t really funny to me, so it fell flat. And it’s yet another movie that suffers by being compared to HEATHERS, which Goldthwait acknowledges as the originator of the “school exploits suicide of kid they didn’t care about alive” satire by naming one of the characters Heather.
Still, it’s an unusual movie and it kept me interested. I’m not sure Goldthwait will ever be a great director, but I respect that he follows his whims and makes uncommercial movies on his own dime, and still gets Robin Williams to star. I’ll have to revisit his other directorial works – I remember SHAKES THE CLOWN being funny and I really liked his practical joke movie WINDY CITY HEAT. Never saw the one about bestiality though.
Williams is actually very good in the role. It’s a rare one for him – it’s not even like ONE HOUR PHOTO where he plays it all serious and creepy. He gets to make jokes and be funny to charm people but just in a subdued way where he’s not running around talking in funny voices and effectively daring you to hit him on the head with a mallet. I actually liked him in this movie, even if it made me a little uncomfortable to hear him talking to his neighbor about zombie movies and quoting Simon Pegg about fast zombies. I guess I should be more uncomfortable about the scene where you see his dick.
Sabara is also good, in fact perfect. It’s funny that the spy kid is so good at playing assholes now (he was also the bully who young Michael Meyers ended up beating to death in the HALLOWEEN remake). Most of the other characters, though, are your usual local production indie inexperienced type of performances, no offense to my native Seattle where it was filmed. It just has that cheap-but-well-meaning indie vibe. But with Robin Williams.
I don’t know how the fuck you try to sell a movie like this. It’s hard to explain. The only way to reel me in was to reveal the entire plot. And it turns out there are other people who will hear that same information and not be sold on it like I was. When I used Google to figure out what school they filmed at I found an article about it on the Seattle Public Schools community blog. It talked about the production and when Robin Williams would be in town and said, “I won’t tell you the plotline – it’s crude and not particularly interesting.”
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.