I’ve never been so confused by a movie. Not that the plot wasn’t easily understandable or anything, but the plot took a good thirty minutes to come into full swing, and then fell short. Buoyed by two excellent performances from Robin Williams and Daryl Sabara, World’s Greatest Dad is a terrific parable of our celebrity of the dead.
Played with haunting accuracy by Daryl Sabara, Kyle Clayton, the disgusting, sexist masturbation addict of a son to Robin Williams’ Lance, accidentally dies by… “hanging,” and Lance, too embarrassed to admit/announce the true details of his son’s death, fabricates a suicide and note, which is discovered by eager students and published in the school newspaper. Kyle, ignored by most and by the few who do notice him, notice him as a complete douche, becomes revered by the entire school. With his note praised for its beauty, struggling writer Lance decides to publish a journal of Kyle’s (fabricated) thoughts, following it up with international sales and a television appearance.
Those generally unfamiliar with Robin Williams remember him mostly for his incredibly wacky comedic appearances, maybe one or two dramatic roles. What these people don’t realise is he is an incredibly talented dramatic actor, and has been playing both his entire career. I enjoy him more as the grounded Robin Williams, and he is perfect in this role, as the diffident school teacher who never really discovers himself until the school offer to name the library the “Kyle Clayton Memorial Library.” Throwing in the odd off-beat and unsure one-liner, Williams is totally believable in his performance.
Daryl Sabara delivers his character with haunting precision. Kyle is gross, sexist and a masturbation addict who makes no attempt to hide his habits from his father. He is disliked by everyone in the school, and everyone watching this film, except his poor “friend” Andrew (Evan Martin), although his very unexpected death is mourned by all who know of it. While we’re smart enough to know better, the characters of the film fall victim quite rapidly to mourning, and celebrating, the death of someone they never cared about. Even the principle, who was threatening to place Kyle in a special needs class, quickly comes around and decides to dedicate the school library in his name, the least such a model student deserves.
While terrifically written and exposed, Bobcat Goldthwait’s accurate portrayal of the praise and love we place in even the worst of dead people, the movie fails to deliver the killing blow. Maybe Bobcat thought it was too dark, maybe not commercial enough, but the film ends much too nicely, and his excellent allegory is wasted. All story threads are tied up as expected and even a nude Robin Williams diving into a pool can’t disguise the overly neat ending.