Saturday, October 11, 2014

Movie Review #36: World's Greatest Dad

Bobcat Goldthwait is probably best known as being that comedian with a high-pitched voice. However, his comedy career ended about 20 years ago as far as I can tell, and he seems to be primarily a television and movie director these days. Or, alternately, a panelist on the radio program Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me!

This is the first movie of his that I've watched. Short review: wow. It's not a perfect movie, but if you like dark comedies like Life Aquatic, you'll probably love World's Greatest Dad. It was hilarious and poignant. You can watch it easily on Netflix.


Lance is a high school English teacher who aspires to be a famous author. His literary works have yet to be published, though. He's divorced, raising his angry, disrespectful, crude, teenaged son Kyle on his own. Lance's poetry class suffers from low enrollment, and it sounds like his class is destined to be cut from the curriculum. The only thing apparently going for him is a secret relationship with a much younger teacher at the school, but the relationship is a secret and it's beginning to look like she's beginning to favor another, more popular English teacher.

When Lance comes home to find that Kyle has died of autoerotic asphyxiation, Lance breaks down in grief for a bit... then rearranges the scene to make it look like his son committed suicide. As a final touch, Lance types up a suicide note for his son... a note that gets made public, and begins to touch the lives of others.


The central theme of the film seems to be that fame is not a permanent solution to the temporary problem of loneliness. Just because a lot of people know who you are and want to talk to you, doesn't mean they understand you or like who you really are. Fame creates an idealized version of a person, and the truth of that person will never match the ideal.

From the beginning Lance admits that he's not writing for the love of writing; he's writing because he wants recognition. In the wake of his son's death he actually gets that attention. Sure, everyone thinks that his son wrote the suicide note and, later, the thoughtful journal Lance "found," but the result is the same: people are suddenly giving Lance all the attention he's ever wanted.

Another movie might have taken this moment to show Lance becoming jealous of his dead son, giving Lance the burning desire to let everyone know that he wrote these things, and that everyone should be heaping their praises on him, not Kyle. However, that doesn't seem to be Lance's problem. He not only has all the recognition he could hope for, but the publishers actually want to give Lance the opportunity to publish something of his own--exactly what he would have wanted if he was, in fact, that selfish.

But no, in the end I think Lance admitted the truth because he couldn't stand the how superficial his "fans" were. He admitted the truth publicly, not expecting praise, but knowing that they would turn on him. Then, the truth being out there, Lance was free.

That's not to say that Lance wasn't a little selfish. His works were having a profound, positive effect on the people who read his work, and admitting the truth would very likely take that away as people, indignant about being lied to, would likely reject the work that had helped them even though the work itself hadn't changed.

The movie does some funny things with honesty, too. People were baring their souls to Lance and being honest with themselves, all by being dishonest with themselves about who Kyle was. In death, they were all willing to believe that Kyle was, in fact, a deep, thoughtful soul under that crude exterior. They repeatedly refer to Kyle as a kind-hearted, sweet boy, when anyone who really knew Kyle knew that he was not. He was mean and kinda dumb, as Kyle's own best friend pointed out.

Which brings up a pet peeve of mine: the false eulogy in which a dead are remembered as something quite different than what they were. In the best case scenario, eulogists mention the dead's best features and ignore their faults. At worst, they either outright lie about a person's qualities or keep the description so vague as to mean basically nothing.

I've never given a eulogy in public, but I have written them. If I'm going through the trouble to do so, very likely there was something good about that person, and that's the quality I prefer to focus on, just as I do with the living. However, I also make it a point to mention a person's faults, because I believe that if we are to remember someone, we should remember them honestly.

Anyway, World's Greatest Dad is a pretty good movie. The pacing near the beginning can be a bit slow at times while the movie sets up Lance's status quo, and though it's important to set that part up, I think it went on a little too long. After Kyle's death, though, the movie starts to really ramp up, and you just keep waiting to see when it all falls apart. There were times when I thought Lance would have the whole thing pulled out form under him, but he knocked everything down himself once he braced for the aftermath. I recommend giving it a chance if you haven't yet.


  1. I love love love this movie. The staging of his son's suicide to avoid the shameful way he died is such a tremendous act of love, and it wells up with this beautiful music. I get teared up every time.

    The other time I get really profoundly affected by this movie is when he's trying his hardest to cry on national television and he can't do it. That entire scene is just so bleak somehow.

    Also, I can't listen to Under Pressure without picturing naked slow-mo Robin Williams since watching this film.

    1. I thought the national TV scene was hilarious, but I clearly interpreted it differently. I saw it as him trying very hard not to laugh, trying to make it look like he's crying instead.

      He cries in the face of what his son actually was, like at the porn rack at the newsstand. But there on TV, where we was supposed to pretend that his son was a misunderstood genius? That was funny to him, and any attempt to look sad was taking an enormous, conscious effort. At least, that's how I saw it.

      Not just anybody could create such a complex scene in which a) we believe the audience of the show though he was crying, b) we, the movie audience, know we was NOT crying, and c) we can interpret that lack of crying in different ways. That's kind of incredible. Robin Williams was a great actor.