Showing a flair for the incongruous emotion, Goldthwait’s film is full of moments that are outrageous yet thoughtful, challenging yet sweet.
You probably thought you could happily go through the rest of your life without ever seeing a nude Robin Williams dive bomb into a swimming pool. You were wrong. And Bobcat Goldthwait, aka ‘the guy with the squeaky voice from Police Academy’, is exactly the filmmaker to prove it.
In World’s Greatest Dad – Goldthwait’s third film as writer-director – Williams plays high school poetry teacher Lance Clayton; but Dead Poets Society this is not. The diems of Lance’s life are hardly worth carpe-ing – his dreams of a successful writing career have fallen flat, his girlfriend flirts shamelessly with all his colleagues, and he’s the single parent of a vile teenage son on the point of expulsion from school.
This latter circumstance is most fully realised thanks to actor Daryl Sabara, who is perfect as Lance’s son Kyle. Never before has such a sweaty, rage-filled pervert, such an idiotic and miserable ingrate slouched across our screens. Sabara, in other words, has nailed adolescence.
Despite being on the receiving end of comments such as "It’s bad enough having a teacher as a dad. Being seen with two teachers is AIDS," Lance parents him with equable good humour until something truly awful happens and all our expectations about what, exactly, is going on here go flying out the window.
Famously, Hitchcock banned late entrances to screenings of Psycho to preserve the plot’s surprises. Less famously, Goldthwait banned reviewers from revealing a key plot detail when Sleeping Dogs, his second film in 15 years, came out in 2007. Bossy, perhaps, but justified, and World’s Greatest Dad confirms Goldthwait’s membership of that minority of filmmakers whose work unfolds in genuinely unexpected ways.
This is such a rare quality that seeing it on screen lays bare the stupid platitudes from which most mainstream films weaves their narratives. And from an actor like Williams, so often associated with exactly the kind of sentimental mushiness that this film so deliciously satirises, it’s an extraordinary performance.
Showing a flair for the incongruous emotion, Goldthwait’s film is full of moments that are outrageous yet thoughtful, challenging yet sweet. The scene where Lance breaks down crying in front of a newsagent’s shelf of porn mags because they remind him of his son is hilarious; when he tries valiantly to be happy for a successful colleague while fumbling to unpack his pathetic Tupperware lunch, it’s exquisitely sad. But most triumphantly, by the time you witness Robin Williams’ nude dive, you just know it makes perfect sense.
Cynical but never heartless, World’s Greatest Dad pokes a hole in our phoney attitudes to parenting, death and worldly success without ever stretching human behaviour beyond recognition for the sake of a cheap gag. It also marks the moment when Bobcat Goldthwait ceased to be ‘the guy with the squeaky voice from Police Academy’ and became the director of films that Judd Apatow wishes he could make.
Goldthwait’s last film didn’t make much of a splash, but those who saw it were impressed.
Funny, thoughtful and full of surprises.
We can’t wait to see what Goldthwait does next.