Thursday, 7 March 2013

World's Greatest Dad

World’s Greatest Dad

When I was a teenager, outside of the illicit battered VHS copies of ropey porn movies passed around the playground, which were tame by today’s standards (no DV, no DA, definitely no 2 Girls, 1 Cup), our celluloid experience of sex was pretty high-brow. I’m talking genuine cinematic classics. Last Tango In Paris. Betty Blue. The eye-watering (at least for teenage boys) In The Realm Of The Senses. Blue Velvet. Beyond their sexual content there was something transgressive about these films, something forbidden, something undeniably attractive. We knew there was something wrong in these films and we liked it.

Nowadays, sex is everywhere. The newspapers are full of football players and their 3-in-a-bed romps. Or minor celebs confessing to drug-crazed hooker marathons. Or mediocre singers who were famous for 5 minutes in the ‘80s chaining rent boys to the radiator. You turn on your TV and it’s no longer just the she-males of Sex and the Shitty discussing back-door action and blowjob techniques in such vivid detail you can almost taste it, it’s the harridans of ITV’s Loose Women. Turn on your computer and you can immediately access the kinda depraved, hardcore filth even Tom Sizemore wouldn’t stomach. And if you’ve ever seen Tom Sizemore’s sex tape…well, let’s just say Tom doesn’t strike me as a man troubled by conventional attitudes to taste, decency, morality or societal norms. We have no taboos left. So it was inevitable, particularly in the wake of the masturbatory misadventures of Michael Hutchence and David Carradine, that eventually someone would make a film about the solitary pleasures of auto-erotic asphyxia.

Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (who memorably played the squeaky-voiced loon in the Police Academy films. No, not Steve Guttenberg. The other one. No, not the annoying black guy who did the sound effects. The other other one) World's Greatest Dad is a pitch-black comedy which follows sad-sack teacher and failed writer Lance Clayton (Robin Williams). Stuck teaching poetry to a shrinking class of vacuous teen dullards, Lance dreams of becoming a successful novelist but finds himself constantly rejected, not least by his under-achieving son Kyle (Daryl Sabara). Kyle is the kind of kid only a parent could love; a sullen, foul-mouthed, alienated porn addict who insults everyone around him and has a penchant for German scheissen films. When Lance discovers Kyle has accidentally strangled himself in an onanistic mishap while indulging his favourite hobby (“looking at vaginas”), he restages the death to look like a suicide, faking a suicide note and confessional journal which give the frankly despicable little pervert depth and a tortured nobility in the process. As events spiral beyond his control and Kyle becomes feted as a lost soulful genius, a teen Kurt Cobain expressing the pain and alienation of a generation, Williams finds himself getting a taste of the success he's always dreamed of. Only Kyle’s sole friend Andrew (Evan Martin) suspects the truth…

While it may not be as funny or as taboo-busting as it thinks it is, World's Greatest Dad does have some pant-wettingly funny moments and features Robin Williams' best performance since Good Morning Vietnam. Lance is a fundamentally decent man, beaten down by life desperately grabbing his one shot for fame. It’s a cynical move and, in the hands of a less talented performer, could be seen as opportunistic and shallow but Williams imbues his character with a likeable warmth. The scene where Lance discovers his son dead, essentially one extended take, is devastating and Goldthwait doesn’t shrink from showing the raw agony of grief. As Kyle, Daryl Sabara is amusingly repulsive without ever becoming a stereotype. Most teenage boys, at some point, have probably been as awful as Kyle and most of the discomfort audiences will feel (well, the guys anyway) when watching World's Greatest Dad probably has more to do with the truth of Kyle’s solitary obsession than with the film’s dark subject matter.

A successful stand-up comedian primarily known on this side of the pond for the awful Police Academy films, Goldthwait is fast proving he’s one of America’s more interesting indie directors with films like Shakes The Clown and Sleeping Dogs Lie and has become adept at wringing guilty laughs from his audience but World's Greatest Dad is Williams’ film. He’s in virtually every scene and his performance is poignant and brave without ever veering into the treacly sentimentality that’s plagued his career. It may not be to everyone’s taste and it may run out of steam before the end but World's Greatest Dad deserves to be seen. After all, how many other comedies out there revolve around a teenager wanking himself to death?

David Watson

Bobcat Goldthwait
Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, Evan Martin, Alexie Gilmore
Running time

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