I mostly gave up on Robin Williams during his inspirational phase of the late 1980s, which turned into the feel-good Oscar fever that consumed him for most of the next decade, but I still enjoyed his rare forays into darker, more complicated characters, such as INSOMNIA, One Hour Photo and even the maligned comedy Death to Smoochy. Bobcat Goldthwait's World's Greatest Dad certainly fits my preferred mold for Williams, but I was still concerned that Goldthwait's heavy touch might work too well with Williams' more maudlin tendencies.
Williams stars as Lance Clayton, the frustrated single father of a difficult teen son (Daryl Sabara). Piling on to his parental angst is the wave of indifference aimed at Lance's professional pursuits; his attempts to get his writing published are summarily dismissed, and neither the students nor the staff at the high school where he teaches are enthusiastic about his presence. Even Lance's improbably cute, relatively young and vivacious girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore) seems to be entertaining other options. When a tragedy strikes, Lance manipulates the circumstances to avoid certain shame, but his desperate lie gets out of his hands and fuels a community crusade in which he and his son are lauded as inspirational heroes.
Like his stand-up comedy persona, Bobcat Goldthwait's directorial approach is neither subtle nor clever, but it is aggressively confrontational and painfully funny, making World's Greatest Dad an almost perfect vehicle for Williams' underutilized skill at playing angry and confused, allowing him to flip his usual 'neglected crusader' shtick into something that bristles with stabby little prickles. Goldthwait's script, for a while, mines his fertile proclivity for acerbic satire to great effect, spinning a parents' nightmare in an unexpected direction and earning, in part, company with other grim teen-oriented cult comedies like Heathers.
However, Goldthwait, for all of his affected bluster, is actually a fairly conventional writer and director — even his bestiality romcom Sleeping Dogs Lie was fairly milquetoast beyond one scene — and World's Greatest Dad takes a prosaic and emotionally safe turn at the end to avoid tackling the interesting ideas that it had raised. A utilitarian case can be made in favor of Lance's continued embellishment of his original lie; even though Goldthwait lampoons the hyperactive cult of phony self-help fads, if Lance's lies actually help troubled teens, is this a case where honesty will do more harm than good? Ironically, for a movie that somewhat spoofs Oprah Winfrey, World's Greatest Dad settles into one of the more dispiriting platitudes of our Oprahfied culture by placing the value of being true to one's self over one's duty to others. It's an anemic feel-good closing to an otherwise fun, rascally and curious movie.
World's Greatest Dad was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickcharter Nigel Druitt. He ranks it on his chart at #181 / 1730 (90%), making it his 3rd favorite Robin Williams movie out of 13. World's Greatest Dad ranked on my Flickchart at #1250 (68%), putting it at #5 on my chart of 19 Robin Williams movies.