Saturday, January 30, 2010
It's safe to say that the recent filmography of Robin Williams has been dismal at best. Compare films such as RV, Man of the Year, and License to Wed to his Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting, and you'll get an idea about just how far this actor has fallen off the map. With World's Greatest Dad, Williams is given his meatiest and most ambitious role in years, and although he comes through as a performer, the film's premise turned me off from the get go. I might be the wrong person to review a film like this because many people have seemed to enjoy it, but I don't like comedies that make me feel like a bad person when I laugh, and I don't like films that want me to care about repulsive people. Watching this film was inexplicably uncomfortable.
Lance Clayton (Williams) is a pretty repulsive guy, but writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait presents him in an effort to provoke pity. He's an aspiring novelist. In fact, he's been writing books for years, but has never been able to get published. He has dreams beyond his current job as a poetry teacher, but it doesn't seem likely that he will ever achieve them. He has a son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara), but that's hardly a bright spot in his life. Kyle is a disgusting human being, and I cringed every moment he was on screen. Sabara does a fine job in the role, but Goldthwait goes way over the top with the vulgarity of the character.
Lance is secretly dating Claire (Alexie Gilmore), a chipper art teacher half his age. One night, she takes Lance and Kyle to Outback Steakhouse, and by the time Lance gets home, his life has turned upside down. Explaining what happens might or might not be considered a spoiler, but it's safe to say that I have no desire to spell it out in words. The thematic point of the incident is supposed to be a newfound opportunity for Lance. His writing is suddenly renowned for reasons you might not expect, and he enjoys this unjust praise without any apparent disturbance.
World's Greatest Dad is a film that starts off being about hideous people, and as the story develops, I realized the only thing that changes is that the people become more hideous. Williams does all he can with the role -- and he does do a fine job -- but Goldthwait weighs him down immeasurably. The sympathy we are supposed to feel for Lance is as nonexistent as this man's conscience. I was sickened by watching this man gain success and fame the way he did. Worst of all, the film tries to solve this lack of true sympathy in the last minute of the film, making the entire premise of the project more worthless in the process.
Watching a film like this makes me appreciate even more what a guy like Jason Reitman is able to do with his films. He takes people who do unflattering things -- whether it be endorsing tobacco or laying off people in dozens -- and he makes an honest and believable effort to get us to care about them. Goldthwait never reaches that type of success, and perhaps he doesn't want to, but I don't see the point in investing time in a revolting protagonist, only to see him become more revolting as time goes on.
With all of this being said, the most important thing to know about World's Greatest Dad is that it relies heavily on the personality of its audience. If you are able to stomach content like this and still be able to laugh at it, then you will have a ball with this film. There are many satirical, deadpan moments throughout the film, and even though I couldn't bring myself to laugh at them, that isn't to say that this film doesn't have its fair share of clever moments. It's just not my cup of tea.