27 September 2010

Jerk Offed- WORLD'S GREATEST DAD Review

In case you didn't spot it two weeks ago, I mentioned that I wouldn't review Cyrus because it was too slight to write about, and too much an attempt to take mumblecore into the mainstream, precisely the place where it doesn't belong, and not enough of an actual film. So it was pleasing to see World's Greatest Dad this week, the kind of thing Cyrus was striving to be all along.

The titular dad is Lance Clayton, a teacher and aspiring novelist whose 15-year-old son Kyle is an antagonistic and thoroughly hateful little shit. He spends all day masturbating in his room and treating his father and everyone else like crap. When he dies while experimenting with autoerotic asphyxiation, Lance works through his grief by retroactively rationalising his son's behaviour with a fake suicide note, which captures the imagination of his students and peers.

You might need to look at it twice, but I assure you, it's the same Robin Williams in World's Greatest Dad who starred in Old Dogs earlier this year. It's not that we didn't know Williams has acting chops, but I wonder if anyone realised he would still do films as good as this in between worthless and unfunny family comedies. We know how versatile he is, and he does very well here balancing the dark comedy with the deceptively serious subject matter.

It also goes without saying that Daryl Sabara's a big surprise here too. As Kyle, he shows his capabilities beyond the numerous Spy Kids films, making an utterly repugnant character really watchable and intriguing. Even in being so cartoonishly horrible to his screen dad, he works well enough with Williams that his presence is felt even after his character disappears. Having forgotten about him entirely before I saw this film, I'm now very interested to see what he does next.

Needless to say, the comedy is so dark, it's pitch black. However, it's not above giving the audience some great laugh-out-loud moments alongside the serious message at its heart. Watching the film put me in mind of that John Lennon quote about worshipping those who survived, like Greta Garbo or Gloria Swanson, rather than idolising Jim Morrison or James Dean because they burnt out. World's Greatest Dad has a great deal to say about the way people venerate the dead.

Kyle's fellow pupils know he was an arsehole. Everyone knows that. This much is made incredibly clear in the first half hour because Sabara is so good at being hated. Bobcat Goldthwait writes it that way so that the piggyback riding of grief that follows is all too apparent, and the reason the film works so well as a satire is in how it holds up a mirror to the hero worship of which Lennon so disapproved, and the way that grief becomes a commodity to people when they can hijack it.

Looking at Robin Williams' recent acting career, it almost feels like he died accidentally and someone pretended he was in World's Greatest Dad to protect his legacy. It's just so sour and dark and yet it's a brilliant comedy that matches its real off-kilter sense of humour to a strong social conscience. Goldthwait tackles slightly disturbing subject matter very well indeed, and it's ironic that distributors don't seem to have been able to figure out how to market such an uncommonly honest satire. 

World's Greatest Dad will presumably materialise on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK before the end of the year.
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If you've seen World's Greatest Dad, why not share your comments below? The campaign for Robin Williams to stop starring in awful shit begins here!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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