Now that standup comedian Bobcat Goldthwait has directed his third feature film, I think we can draw some general conclusions.
The main one is that Goldthwait’s taste for outrageous and profane stories is matched by the seriousness with which he approaches them. I’m not sure to whom I could recommend “Shakes the Clown” or “Sleeping Dogs Lie” — it would be a select group — but those films are strong on their own bizarre terms.
And now comes “World’s Greatest Dad,” which could be described as an extremely black comedy, except I’m not sure it’s a comedy.
In the opening half-hour we meet a high school lit teacher, Lance Clayton (Robin Williams), who is unbelievably frustrated about his failure to become a famous novelist. He desperately wants the glory, the women, the money — in other words, he’s rooted his ambition in all the wrong reasons.
Through a bizarre tragedy, Lance finds his writing suddenly getting that acclaim. The only problem is, the acclaim is based on a complete sham. Yes, he has the attention of a sexy colleague (Alexie Gilmore), a book deal and a shot on an Oprah-like TV show. But how long can he pull it off?
I am being somewhat vague about the plot specifics, because this film is best enjoyed without much preparation — except for the warning that it doesn’t skimp on bad taste.
Robin Williams has done his share of strange, unsympathetic characters of late, as his movie career has mystifyingly moved away from comedy. But here he gives a controlled performance that captures both Lance’s vain ambitions as a writer and his sincere (if fatally wrong-headed) battles to be a good father to his teenage son.
The son, Kyle, is played by Daryl Sabara, who was one of the title characters in the “Spy Kids” movies. Kyle is a creepy little sociopath, and Sabara is horrifyingly good in the role.
Goldthwait’s script is fearless in its assumption that the audience can handle a group of less-than-lovable characters depicted with brutal honesty. He pulls it off for quite a while, even if the film’s satire is the kind that tends to curdle halfway up your throat.
The ending feels rushed, as though Goldthwait hadn’t quite devised a way to get out of the corner he painted his characters into. But the movie is honest, tough, and it doesn’t chicken out on its more difficult issues. That’s pretty good for a filmmaker named Bobcat.