As comedies dealing with autoerotic asphyxiation go, “World’s Greatest Dad” is unique.
As you might have guessed, it’s also dark, edgy and loaded with profanity.
What you may not have guessed, however, is that it also has some interesting philosophical points to make.
Written and directed by standup comic Bobcat Goldthwait, “World’s Greatest Dad” is as off-putting as fingernails on the chalkboard, but it can’t be easily dismissed. There’s more depth here than one might have expected.
Robin Williams (“License to Wed”) stars as Lance Clayton, a high school poetry teacher who has been struggling for years to get his own writing published. He’s also a single dad with a challenging offspring.
Lance’s teenage son Kyle (Daryl Sabara from “Spy Kids”) is brat of colossal proportions. He’s a bitter resentful, foul-mouthed punk who makes his dad’s life a living hell. Obsessed with video games and porn, Kyle has inherited none of his dad’s kind-hearted spirit or intellect.
But in spite of his son’s abusive behavior, Lance remains devoted to him, even tolerating his risky self-abuse.
The only bright spot in Lance’s otherwise dismal life is the slightly ditzy Claire (Alexie Gilmore from “Definitely, Maybe”), the high school art teacher with whom Lance is having an affair.
Much of Goldthwait’s movie is devoted to showing that Lance is an underappreciated writer and teacher and that Kyle is a repulsive ingrate. But this is only a lead-up.
While indulging in his dangerous hobby, Kyle gets careless and chokes to death. What begins as a cursory acknowledgement of Lance’s loss becomes an outpouring of grief after Lance fakes a poetic suicide note for Kyle.
Soon, people are asking for more examples of Kyle’s writing and Lance is more than willing to comply, forging Kyle’s signature to his work.
Goldthwait offers some clear-eyed and cogent commentary on the hypocrisy society indulges in by elevating the dead to saint-like status. The recent passing of pop superstar Michael Jackson and the subsequent media hype immediately pops to mind as a recent example.
Williams gives a very subdued and nuanced performance, one that lacks the gimmicky shtick that he sometimes indulges in. Unlike his other comedies, Williams is not responsible for the laughs here so he’s under no obligation to mug.
Unfortunately, the movie has an unrelentingly grim and ugly tone as well as a finale that tends to undermine its effectiveness.
But when it comes to making its point, “World’s Greatest Dad” is right on target. (R) Rating: **1/2
* Avoid at all costs
** Only if you're bored
*** Good movie
**** Well worth your time
***** Be sure to see it