"World's Greatest Dad": Bob "Bobcat" Goldthwait's dark comedy, starring Robin Williams and shot in the Greater Seattle region, is an intriguing tale of relative truth after the death of an adolescent boy.
A dark comedy that raises hard questions — and largely eschews pat answers — about the relativity of truth, Bob “Bobcat” Goldthwait’s “World’s Greatest Dad” swims in a sea of provocative ambiguity.
Shot in the Greater Seattle region, “World’s Greatest Dad” reveals a mature vision of middle-age desperation. Robin Williams’ lead character, Lance, is an uninspiring teacher, unpublished author, neglected lover and clueless parent.
When a fellow teacher’s short story is picked up by The New Yorker on his first try, Lance turns petty in mixed praise of his colleague. When his girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore) starts spending time with another man, Lance’s queries to her are rebuffed as unattractively frivolous.
Life is like that for Lance, whose high-school poetry class is on the chopping block. His greatest challenge, however, is his adolescent son Kyle (Daryl Sabara). Foul-mouthed, disrespectful and cynical, Kyle has a scorched-earth attitude that all but obscures small signs he could be redeemed.
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Alas, the world will never know. Goldthwait, a stand-up comedian and comic-actor-turned-writer-director (“Stay”), posits an interesting moral dilemma when Kyle accidentally dies and Lance makes the death look like a suicide. Lance revises Kyle’s image, marketing him as a tragic hero who conveniently left an inspiring journal (actually written by Lance) ready for publishing.
Williams has several remarkable moments in “Dad,” particularly in later scenes where Lance walks a psychological tightrope between newfound acclaim as a celebrity father, selling hope culled from loss, and the pressures of keeping up the ruse.
If that conflict sounds unsustainable, Goldthwait admirably refuses to make the film’s ending inevitable. Much of the story, in fact, suggests there’s a case for letting Lance’s lies about Kyle become accepted wisdom. The lives of many kids are genuinely improved by the lore Lance spins about his son. If the legend works better than the facts, why not stick with the legend?
Ultimately, “Dad” finds a somewhat unsatisfying and overblown way out of that intriguing ambivalence. But that’s the only disappointing note in an otherwise smart and observant movie about reckless acts of adult survival.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org