“World’s Worst Son” is more like it. “World’s Greatest Dad” gives political correctness the swift kick in the ass you may expect from writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, but there’s a genuinely touching element at play here as well. Lance Cayton (played by the late Robin Williams) is a high school poetry teacher and aspiring writer who writes out of love for the craft, but also seeks validation and success from the publishing companies. Sadly, none of his many attempts have been published.
Lance’s foils are many- his much-younger girlfriend Claire (Alexie Gilmore,) who appears to be just leading him on until she can swing into a non-committal relationship with the next guy, his rival writing teacher, Mike (Henry Simmons,) who spends an exorbitant amount of time getting cozy with Claire. But Lance’s biggest foil seems to be his own son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara,) a repellent little turd who hates everything and everybody and is also a bit of a pervert and a peeping Tom.
When Kyle dies from Auto-erotic Asphyxiation, Lance hangs him in the closet and ghostwrites a suicide note out of respect as well as to spare the family embarrassment. However, when the ‘suicide note’ gets around and becomes a huge success at the school where Lance taught and Kyle attended, Kyle becomes a local hero and tragic figure and suddenly those who knew, him, those who didn’t, those who hated him begin to pretend that they were his best friend.
Lance is both pressured and driven by his own self-interest to write an angst-filled journal ‘by’ his late son, which proves to be the only successful thing Lance is ever written. Only Kyle’s one real friend, Andrew (Evan Martin,) sees past the bullshit to Lance’s lie (Andrew is a genuinely good kid, which makes you wonder why he spent any given amount of time with mental amoeba Kyle. Maybe his outcast status and messed-up home life point to the answer.)
Lance is both a somewhat sympathetic character and a weak and selfish man. What really irked me was when he jilted his lonely neighbor’s invitation to watch movies together so he could go golfing with people he really didn’t like. But he genuinely did love his son, however dreadful the little wart was. Robin Williams did a great job balancing the dark comedy and sad/disturbing elements of the screenplay, and I was surprised to see that Daryl Sabara gave a good performance too. I expected the scene where Lance finds Kyle dead to be done in a blatantly tacky way, but there was actually nuance to it. I was also surprised to see redemption hinted at for Lance.
I liked the fact that there was a positive portrayal of someone with OCD behaviors (i.e. hoarding.) Typically, Bobcat Goldthwait is more satire and less sensitivity but there are some genuinely nice moments here among the dark comedy. Robin Williams and Daryl Sabara make a father-son-relationship-from-hell work nicely. Kyle could have been utterly irredeemable (okay, he is irredeemable, there’s no skirting around that) but Daryl Sabara portrays the nightmarish adolescent cretin so that there is genuine laughs to be derived from his character, not just hate (which I do, make no mistake.)
One issue I have with the movie is that after Kyle’s dead the genuine laughs kind of dissipate. There’s something discomforting about watching a total douchebag be heralded as a martyr for a cause, and that’s definitely the point- when a person dies tragically, no matter how horrible a person, there are going to be some attention-seekers who say “I knew him when.” I did not like “World’s Greatest Dad” as much as Goldthwait’s “God Bless America” and did not find Lance to be as compelling an anti-hero as Frank, but I still recommend it to fans of dark comedy and social satire.