So once again we have survived.

World’s Greatest Dad

tn_worldsgreatestdadI’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.

mp_worldsgreatestdadWilliams 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.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 at 3:03 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

52 Responses to “World’s Greatest Dad”

  1. That EPIC MOVIE poster would have made me run a mile, but your review made it sound pretty interesting. I remember that one about the woman giving the dog, uh, hand-release, getting a release, but I don’t remember the name. WAG THE DOG would be pretty good, ‘cept David Mamet already used it. Don’t think his one had a dog in it, though.

  2. … It was STAY in the US but SLEEPING DOGS everywhere else. Actually, WANK THE DOG would have been funny too, but they may have had problems with getting that up in bus shelters.

  3. I saw the movie months ago in a bootleg dvd, its more interesting to think about than what actually happens on the screen. Robin Williams gives an award worthy performance.

  4. JAM, a small clarification. In Stay/Sleeping Dogs Lie, ’twas not a hand job. As in, your alternate title should have been Blow the Dog.

  5. On your note of finding the school’s reverence of the dead kid false, I actually went to school with this grade A asshole who was on the football team, guy was pretty universally despised, every other word out of his mouth was faggot, guy never did anything but talk shit, and then he died speeding around on his motorcycle with some friend of his on the back. Nobody could’ve given two shits about this chucklefuck a week before, but after he bit it the football team printed up t-shirts and bumper stickers and what not with his face and name on ’em, everyone singin’ his praises, guy practically became the mascot of the school.

  6. My favorite Williams role was in Fisher King. Where you also saw his dick. Wasn’t a fan of that, but the rest of that movie is solid gold.

  7. I actually recently rewatched Heathers for the first time since it first hit video because everybody mentioned it ten times in their Jennifer’s Body reviews. I’m sure a lot of Heathers was probably more shocking and funny back in the day, but I didn’t really find it all that funny or even engaging. I liked it all and all, but I think I only laughed out loud a couple of times and I never really felt like I was looking at some untouchable classic. So if people like Tina Fey and Diablo Cody and now Bobcat Goldthwait want to riff on the ideas of Heathers a bit, it really doesn’t bother me. I’ll actually say that I probably got more entertainment value out of Jennifer’s Body and Mean Girls than Heathers. Haven’t seen this World’s Greatest Dad one yet.

  8. Vern: “it plays more like a weird drama. There are a couple laughs and clever ideas.”

    Sounds like most Robin Williams movies, actually… {g}

  9. I saw Wank the Dog and it had similar issues. It sounds like it would be some twisted comedy but it played more like a drama. Bobcat Golthwait is carving out a pretty particular niche.

  10. “…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.”

    Brilliant.

  11. Driftwood – It’s not the idea that’s not believable to me, it’s the execution of it. It’s too over-the-top to seem real but not enough to be funny.

    Wolfgang – I don’t mind similarities, I just think the movies in question remind me of Heathers without being as good. There’s nothing in this movie as good as “I love my dead gay son!” or “let’s hope our little Eskimo is rubbing noses with Jesus.”

  12. “I’ve already started underlining passages from Moby Dick, if you know what I mean.”

  13. I think the execution of the martyrdom idea was a bit OTT, but as someone whose grad class suffered three deaths I can say that the post-humous worship is pretty accurate.

  14. I’m paraphrasing, but the line “Football season’s over, all that Kurt and Ram had to offer was date rapes and AIDS jokes” is a classic. And speaking of classics, if you haven’t seen Bobcat’s “Shakes the Clown” be sure you do. In addition to the great marketing (The Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies) and stellar cast, the thing is just crazy, weird and hilariously funny. If you’re seeing it again or for the first time, pay close attention to Bobcat during the music montage and the tailor screaming that the main characters are bums while Bobcat sucks a beer and nods.

  15. I really enjoyed this. It’s defintely more in that weird ‘Dramedy’ catagory than the plot would have you think. And I also had the problem where you can’t really hook people to see the film without revealing the main plot, which doesn’t happen till about half way so is pretty much a twist.

    My friend doesn’t think it matters if you know what the twist is or not, but part of me thinks it would have been a much more interesting film to watch if I didn’t know what was gonna happen to Robin’s son.

    But yeah, I was just really impressed it took this fucked up concept, drew out some great little awkward comedy moments, whilst also having some emotional weight to it.

    I think the funniest/awkwardest scene I remember is when him and his girlfriend are arguing over what to call the book in bed – Robin Williams wants to name it after a line in the journal, whilst she wants to give it some other title. So Robin starts trying to argue without arguing that his title is better because it’s something his son actually said even though he knows he’s made up the whole thing. It’s a small scene but i think it pulls together the balancing act of elements the film is going for.

  16. I wonder if Bobcat Golthwait uses his comedy persona voice when he directs his actors. Or if he uses it on the dvd commentary track.

    Wolfgang: Reading Vern’s review, I was wondering if HEATHERS held up. I haven’t seen it since it was in the theaters. My suspicion is that it doesn’t, but I still remember some great lines from that movie:

    “This is Ohio. If you don’t have a beer in your hand you might as well be wearing a dress.”

    “The afterlife is so boring. If I have to sing Kumbaya one more time …”

    “I wonder how he’d react if his son had a limp wrist with a pulse.”

  17. Does he actually talk like that? Like in conversations? Because listening to it in the Police Academy movies made me want to drive a screwdriver through my ear, Dawn of the Dead style. I don’t knwo how I would take an actual social encounter.

  18. This and UP are probably my two favorite movies of the year…it would make an odd double feature. I found it hilarious, in a painful, Todd Solondz kinda way. Of course, I think Goldwait is a better visual stylist than him.

  19. BTW: I’ve watched Heather’s 3 times this year. It was okay the first time, but it gets better and better with each subsequent viewing. It’s marred however by predicting the Columbine attacks almost down to the letter.

  20. Brendan: I have the same reaction to the stage voice of Gilbert Gottfried. And Lisa Kudrow.

  21. I guess I’ll respond to both Vern and Jereth on my earlier comments on Heathers and end up kinda reviewing it.

    I did say that all and all I liked it, but that it didn’t really hold my attention that well or really stick with me as an obvious classic at all after it ended.

    I agree with all you guys that there are great lines in the movie, but I would also say that half of them are probably a lot better on paper than when you actually hear them coming out of the mouthes of the actors they chose in this.

    I would actually say the actresses playing the title characters were the worst at delivering these types of lines like “Well fuck me gently with a chainsaw.” etc. Any of you who gave Megan Fox a hard time for how she held up against Diablo Cody’s dialogue should see Heathers again and you’ll see that she got handed way less natural dialogue and still came out of it better.

    I think Christian Slater gives the best performance in this by far. I realize that this film suffers a bit from a generational divide and since infinitely more violent tragedies (such as all those school shootings) were occurring in high schools when I went to high school, the stuff in this movie isn’t as shocking now. But the one part where Slater thinks it’s funny to calmly fire off a clip of blanks at two bullies in the cafeteria has probably appreciated in comic value.

    Ryder is kinda hit and miss. She’s totally believable as the doormat who would get pushed around and used by fairweather friends and badboy types her whole life, but as the movie tries to make her more empowered it became a little less believable (that was another thing I thought Amanda Sigfried did better in Jennifer’s Body).

    Obviously I did not get the film’s message about breaking free from the seductive power of badboys the first time I saw this film dubbed in French when I was like 10 or whatever, so seeing this again now I definately did gain a new appreciation for it.

    Like I said, having just watched this film I would say I respect it and understand why it would’ve made a big impact on certain people at the time of its release, and why writers who grew up with it would now be inspired to try and put their take on these ideas.

    But I did spend most of the movie kinda sitting there thinking “That’s a clever line.” or “Those characters sure do have a quarky rapport.” but not actually laughing at it. I think it’s like a lot of movies where if you grew up with it you look at it a lot different than you would if you saw it for the first time now.

  22. TULLY: Fair enough, haven’t seen it. I still reckon WANK THE DOG is a pretty good title for something, though.

  23. RE: JAM

    No, it isn’t.

  24. Wolfgang: what I really want to know is this: did Winona Ryder still look cute wearing her monocle, or does it look like an affectation now?

    Jam: I’m sure WANK THE DOG will be a big hit among the folks who liked NAILIN’ PALIN.

  25. I thought Heathers was bitingly satirical and at the same time screamingly funny. Unlike “Art School Confidential”, a film that Vern actually liked but I didn’t, I felt “Heathers” felt like it took place in a school that could’ve been real, with kids and parents that could’ve been real. Of course, I’ve probably spent longer in art school than Vern has (NOBODY, no matter how image-conscious / elitist, walks around barefoot, trust me on this; and moreover there are quite a lot of people who go to art school who aren’t self-centred elitist pricks) and I think most of you guys including Vern have probably spent a lot more time in an American high school than I have (none at all, if you’re interested). Anyway, it’s probably the best thing by far that both Winona Ryder and Christian Slater have ever been in.

    Nonetheless I might dig “World’s Greatest Dad” out as it sounds like the kind of film I might enjoy even if it’s not that good. Odd that I’ve never heard of it though – has it not been released in the UK?

  26. Not a big fan of WELCOME HOME, ROXY CARMICHAEL or GLEAMING THE CUBE, Paul?

  27. Paul – Honestly I think what made HEATHERS work at the time, and probably not for a similar film today, was how the plot went beyond the audience’s expectations.

    I mean “cool guy” Slater being all smartass and politically aware of the school? Not exactly new. Aiming a gun at a kid, planning to blow said school up? Yeah that was new.

    And just how that satire narrative kept anting up the crazy shit. Ryder actually “killing” that girl? Oh shit. People making significance out of a useless word she happened to highlight? MY TWO GAY SONS ARE DEAD!!! Fat kid in motor scooter getting hit by bus? Damn.

    I mean thats what made it so funny. I guess its like the original PRODUCERS. Protagonists have things “figured out” and plan according to the mainstream status quo. Except their scheme backfires when intended targets react differently than they had expected.

  28. Jareth Cutestory

    Ryder looks beautiful in this film. As always.

    And I can’t believe you there’s no Little Women love in here. I thought all you Bale maniacs would come out for that one. I guess Terminator 4 really cost the guy some loyal fans.

  29. P.S.

    I never saw Jawbreaker, which looked from the trailers to be the most blatant rip-off of Heathers of them all.

    Jennifer’s Body and Mean Girls just kinda riffed on the same ideas. Jennifer’s body took the whole teen tragedy angle and Mean Girls took the whole girl clique social pecking order angle.

  30. you see Williams dick? D:

  31. RAA: When I saw HEATHERS there were huge gasps from the audience at the two moments you describe, the pulling out of the gun and the draino death. It was definitely considered pushing the envelope of good taste, but it was artful enough to not cause a scandal, at least up here in Canada. Strangely, a conventional thriller that featured a routine satanic subplot got in way more trouble.

    And a few years later, every high school had at least one guy willing to quote the “open door policy on assholes” line at the first hint of provocation.

    Wolfgang: You know, someone had to point out Winona Ryder to me in that last STAR TREK movie. I didn’t recognize her. I also didn’t recognize her in that film where she fucks a puppet. The 2000s haven’t been kind to our former Promising Young Starlet.

    Never saw LITTLE WOMEN. I think those former AICN guys who formed their own Bale-centric web site/religion are still trying to assimilate NEWSIES and SWING KIDS. They’ll get to PORTRAIT OF A LADY when they’re run out of dick jokes.

  32. Winona played Spock’s mom!

  33. HEATHERS was released at the tail end of the Reagan era, when John Hughes movies were considered hip (to non-hip people, anyway). The band Chicago had a #1 single. Here’s a list of the top TV shows of the time:

    1. The Cosby Show (NBC)
    2. A Different World (NBC)
    3. Cheers (NBC)
    4. The Golden Girls (NBC)
    5. Growing Pains (ABC)
    6. Who’s the Boss? (ABC)
    7. Night Court (NBC)
    8. 60 Minutes (CBS)
    9. Murder, She Wrote (CBS)
    10. Alf (NBC)

    There had been black comedies like REPO MAN, but most Americans were completely unaware of them. Perspective.

  34. No offense to my man Dwayne Cleophus Wayne, but Cheers was behind A Different World?

    That is fucked the fuck up. I don’t care what season, Cheers is better.

    Than everything.

    Also, those top four are pretty damn good sitcoms (even if both of Dr. William H. Cosby Jr.’s brainchildren were either already dying or soon to go horribly wrong), most likely the most watchable of the most watched in my lifetime.

    Barney Miller sure was great…

  35. Speaking of black comedies of the eighties, anyone seen EATING RAOUL recently?

    I must’ve been in elementary school when I saw that. I vaguely remember a wacky, farcical sex romp with fun violence. Which I guess is fine for kids. Teaches them not to take the act of love too seriously. Or that murder is funny. Whatever. I’m sure there’s a moral to be had in there.

    But I LOVE YOU TO DEATH was maybe the king movie in my household. For me and mine, that one definitely holds up.

  36. I’m still waiting for the Barney Miller movie — with muppets. That eagle is a dead ringer for Abe Vigoda.

  37. “Not a big fan of WELCOME HOME, ROXY CARMICHAEL or GLEAMING THE CUBE, Paul?”

    Not really, because I’m afraid I haven’t seen any of them. :( And I thought I was pretty well-versed in Ryder / Slater films too…

  38. I liked the kid, but you are right when you say only a faggot would think this was a comedy movie.

  39. RE: HUNTER

    Is too. Maybe Werner Herzog’s next doc.

  40. frankbooth: Thanks for providing such useful context for HEATHERS. I could look at lists like that all day. I favor the arguement that any work of art is informed, among other things, by the immediate issues and concerns of the time it was made (in varying degrees).

    At the same time, HEATHERS was released after your namesake ran amok in BLUE VELVET, and during what was arguably the peak for both Peter Greenaway and Alex Cox. While none of these film-makers took on John Hughes as brilliantly as HEATHERS, the outrageousness of the film is certainly tempered by the general climate.

    Paul: You’re not missing much. I picked two awful movies for comedic effect.

  41. Okay, so I talked to my buddy who is one of the contributing editors of that Bale fansite and I think they will do a Little Women review as a Bale Christmas Special. Should be good.

    As for more Ryder love. I spotted her in Star Trek right away. It’s that voice. But no, she hasn’t really been getting very good roles this decade.

    I have really fond memories of Mermaids. I haven’t seen it since I was a kid but still listen to the soundtrack a lot.

    And as for Slater, Pump Up The Volume was a really good teen movie up until the really silly 80s ending where they get pirate jeep so that he do drive-by truthings while getting chased by helicopters. I’m sure those Hollywood guys racked their brains long and hard for a way to remake that movie for the internet age before admitting defeat.

  42. “Drive-by truthings.” That’s priceless. A FEW GOOD MEN would have been a better movie if Nicholson had delivered his speech in drive-by format.

  43. Oh yeah, I saw “pump up the volume” YEARS ago – like when I was a teenager (which is longer than some have thought!) and really enjoyed it. I’ll have to take another look.

  44. PUMP UP THE VOLUME instilled the false hope in a generation of tech nerds that making a bunch of silly recordings in their Mom’s basement was a surefire way to make a hot punky brunette come over and show them her tits.

  45. Majestyk, that’s the kind of wish-fulfilment that I always enjoy (don’t forget one of my fave films is “Hackers”!) Can’t remember much about the film now but I’ll certainly check it out again.

  46. I guess one good thing you could say about PUMP UP THE VOLUME is that it marked the first appearance of the “U.K. Surf” version of the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation.” Sadly, it wasn’t used in a memorable way whatsoever.

    If I remember correctly, the film also uses Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” a song that is way too heavy to serve as the theme song for a radio show that features simulated acts of masturbation.

  47. I don’t know if Leonard C.’s still in the states or not at this point, but I just saw his new tour.

    Holy shit.

    Seventy-four years old. Three and a half hours. And he dances.

    Go see Leonard Cohen.

    It will make you love stuff more.

  48. Yeah, seconded. Utterly amazing

  49. Mr. Majestyk

    As for Pump Up The Volume instilling false hope, I think you should read WOMEN by Charles Bukowski. Christian Slater was a funny handsome charismatic guy who related his personal experiences in a funny way and he only got one woman. Bukowski is an acne-scarred bloated mumbling drunk and writing about his exploits seemed to get women to line up in the streets for a piece of him.

    I also think Pump Up The Volume made huge strides for gender equality. Normally the hot outcast is a chick who just has to take off her glasses to reveal she is beautiful like the glasses were a big tarp covering her whole head. Pump Up The Volume was the only movie I can think of to try this with a guy. And it was actually almost believable, or at least more believable than Slater as a comic book store loser in True Romance.

  50. So glad to see you watched this one, Vern. I think it’s a little bit of a bummer that you had any spoilers before seeing this. I knoew nothing about it and so it felt very fresh and unusual the first time I saw it. Also, you weren’t offended by seeing RW’s dick because that’s not so shocking. The hairy little fucker loves getting naked.

    On another note: I saw a Biography of Seagal on the Biography channel the other day. What the fucking fuck? That mediocre comedian from 30Rock who wears the quirky hats gets to talk about Seagal’s movies through the whole thing, but Seagalogy doesn’t even get a mention?!? Fuck you, Biography channel.

  51. Hey now, leave Frank alone. He’s the best trucker hat-based comedian in the business today.

  52. Is it weird to say Robin Williams is under-rated? I think (like Eddie Murphy) he’s tarnished his name with some terrible movies, but when he’s on, he’s ON, and he’s great here. The scene *SPOILER* where he finds his son is uncomfortably powerful. Like Tom Cruise, I think the list of great directors he’s worked with speaks for itself. You don’t get to work with Spielberg, Gilliam, Branagh, Nolan, Van Sant, Coppola, etc…just by being a hacky one-note comedian.

    As for the movie itself – it definitely works better as dramedy than comedy, and the “twist” (or plot) would have worked better if it was kept secret, but oh well. Film-wise, it’s miles above Sleeping Dogs Lie, but I kinda preferred that one’s scrappy charm. They’re both worth seeking out though.

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