Shallow/Grave

08/19/2009 4:00 AM |

World’s Greatest Dad
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait

World’s Greatest Dad, comedian turned writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait’s third feature, shares a peculiar thematic kinship with Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. A blisteringly bitter but heartfelt black comedy, Dad stars Robin Williams as Lance Clayton, the eponymous father of Kyle (a scene-stealing Daryl Sabara), a hilariously obnoxious high schooler who dies accidentally while performing autoerotic asphyxiation. Through Lance’s quiet but dogged exploitation of Kyle’s death for his own benefit, Goldthwait’s film emphatically seconds a point that Coscarelli previously made in his 1979 indie horror gem: the unearned respect we grant our loved ones after they die is startlingly shallow.

There are glaring differences between both Phantasm and Dad‘s respective senses of humor but both are about how we use the dead to our advantage. In Phantasm, a mysterious villain identified only as “The Tall Man” abducts the dead and brings them back to life to use as slave labor on a planet devoid of natural resources. Goldthwait’s film refines that crude but effective metaphor considerably by refusing the clear moral comfort of Coscarelli’s fantasy. World’s Greatest Dad doesn’t have a “Tall Man.” Lance, our hero, also just happens to be a malicious grave-robber.

For the first-third of World’s Greatest Dad, Goldthwait makes Lance look like the perfect victim, somebody who in his earlier days might have modeled for those Atlas ads as the “Hero of the Beach.” A failed writer and puny nobody at the school where he teaches poetry, he’s destined to be stuck in the shadow of vapid alpha male co-workers and in the arms of an uncaring mistress.

Lance is a loveable loser that nobody but the audience can care about until his kid dies. Even after the school paper releases a suicide note Lance writes on Kyle’s behalf, to make it look as if he did not kill himself while jerking off, he’s still just a lucky loser. He expertly turns his meek, cordial attitude into an act and transforms his son into a symbol of chaste martyrdom through a tell-all memoir that he also secretly wrote. To get ahead, he neatly glosses over the fact that Kyle was actually a loudmouth pervert (his only friend tells Lance that he doesn’t believe Kyle wrote anything so deep, as there’s no mention of felching anywhere in it).

Lance’s veiled ambition however can never be completely condemned. Goldthwait never allows him to lose his cool or reveal that his manipulative actions are motivated by overt brutality. Instead, the one time Lance steps out from behind his role as a grieving father, is when he stifles back inappropriate laughter after Dr. Dana, an Oprah-esque talk show host, asks him to tell her audience about his son. He doesn’t believe a word of what he’s saying but the tears that accompany his snickering show that he regrets everything he’s done, even though he’ll keep doing it just a little bit longer.

Opens August 21