Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Day 104: World's Greatest Dad
"I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone."
One of the first movies I reviewed, oddly enough exactly 100 days ago, was Bobcat Goldthwait's Sleeping Dogs Lie, an unconventional love story to say the least. Today I'm looking at his follow-up, a film that gives Robin Williams his best role since The Fisher King (which coincidentally came out the same year as Williams shot a cameo in Goldthwait's directorial debut Shakes the Clown). 18 years later, Goldthwait has given Williams a gift of a role, the kind of thing that plays right into Williams' strengths as an actor. I find it equally strange that this film came out in the same year as Williams' worst movie ever Old Dogs.
World's Greatest Dad tells the story of Lance Clayton (Williams), a failed writer who now works as a high school poetry teacher. His son Kyle (Daryl Sabara, the younger brother from Spy Kids) is a pretty awful dude: he's disgustingly obsessed with sex in only the way a 15 year old social outcast can be; he calls everyone, including his father, a fag; and he's just a generally unpleasant individual with only one real friend, Andrew (Evan Martin), a kid from a hyper-dysfunctional family. Lance has very tentatively begun a covert relationship with Claire (Alexie Gilmore) a fellow teacher at the school, but she only seems very fleetingly interested in him. His classes are on the verge of being cancelled due to low enrollment, and his son isn't making life easy for Lance by constantly causing trouble at school.
After taking Claire out on a date one night, Lance comes home to find Kyle dead from autoerotic asphyxiation. Williams plays the scene so well, his grief is real and genuine and the kind of thing that makes your heart break for someone who wasn't even that likable. In an attempt to make the best of a horrible situation, Lance stages his son hanging from a clothes rod in a closet, and he types a suicide note that he places in Kyle's pocket. Soon after, the suicide note is published in the school paper, and Kyle inexplicably becomes an inspiration to everyone from the teachers to the students.
In a desperate attempt to rewrite history, Lance begins playing along, offering up more "diaries" and other writings that people are desperate to get their hands on. It becomes clear that, more than anything else, Lance doesn't want people to remember who Kyle actually was, and that this revisionist version of his son is preferable to who he actually was. Andrew is the only person suspicious of any of these writings because he's the only other person that really knew Kyle. When he confronts Lance, it's an especially hilarious scene, particularly when Lance agrees that Kyle's journal entries are "a little light on felching."
Since not a lot of people have actually seen the film, I won't spoil the last third, except to say that it worked perfectly for me. A theme that runs through Goldthwait's movies is a brutal honesty about the human condition. Granted, the inciting incidents in his films tend to be dark, nihilistic & far-fetched, but he has a keen eye for the true nature of the average human being. In this film, he paints a society full of people who so desperately long for a real connection to others that they're willing to rewrite history in their own heads to fit the emotional void in their lives. None of these people except Lance and Andrew actually gave a shit about Kyle, yet they all want to create a world where they were the only ones who gave a shit about him.
I think it's a spot-on representation of how hypocritical people can be. This sort of thing reared its ugly head, albeit on a much larger scale, when people like Michael Jackson & Whitney Houston died. These were undeniable superstars at one point in time, but virtually everyone had turned their back on them when their personal problems began to outweigh their success. However, when they died, millions of people came out of the woodwork claiming to have always been huge supporters & devoted fans, despite this being a revisionist version of events at best.
This sort of hypocritical behavior isn't uniquely American, but it certainly is rampant throughout American culture. Polarizing tragic events like Columbine and 9/11 don't actually unite us. They point out how hypocritical we actually are as a society. That's the reason the goodwill we all feel towards one another in the immediate aftermath of these tragedies quickly dissipates, because it's not genuine. I'm glad that at least one filmmaker out there is willing to call people out on this aberrant behavior. Granted he presents it in miniature, but it's a fantastic commentary on humanity.
Like I said, I loved this movie, particularly the ending. Once you've seen it, and I recommend that you do, let's talk about it, because I'd love to hear what people thought of it. As I've said, this is not a film for everyone, but the people who do connect with it, get it, and I can only hope that it opens a few eyes. It's the least people can do.