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Sundance Review: World’s Greatest Dad

Seemingly out of nowhere comes one of the most divisive and twisted comedies since Heathers. In Bobcat Goldthwait’s second directorial effort there is no limit to the darkness and consequently, no limit to the laughs to be had.
By  · Published on January 22nd, 2009

Do you like dark comedies? I certainly do. There are times when I love my comedy to be blacker than black, morbid as all hell and as sick and twisted as possible. That said, I have found my new love at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival: Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad. You may not be aware, but director Bobcat Goldthwait’s directorial debut Sleeping Dogs Lie premiered here in Park City in 2006. That movie was originally titled Stay and it involved a woman giving fellatio to a dog. If that isn’t pretty sick and twisted, I don’t know what is. And if you can believe it, World’s Greatest Dad takes it to another level entirely. Seriously, it’s a pretty wild experience.

It stars Robin Williams as Lance Clayton, a high school poetry teacher who once dreamed of being a rich and famous writer. Unfortunately for him, his greatest achievement in life appears to be the production of his son Kyle, played by Daryl Sabara. Even more unfortunate is the fact that Kyle is an insufferable little asshole who treats his father like dirt and spends his free time watching porn and finding new and creative ways to masturbate. On the upside, Lance does have a pretty steamy affair going with a much younger, quite attractive art teacher named Claire, played by Alexie Gilmore. When an unfortunate accident leaves Lance without his son, he turns tragedy into opportunity through a series of unthinkable acts. Suddenly faced with potential fame and fortune, he is forced to decide whether or not he can actually live with what he’s done.

With his second feature film, Goldthwait has concocted a story that has the spirit of Heathers, but feels like something that might have sprouted from the devious mind of Chuck Palahniuk. Under the surface of sharp dialog and twisted moments, this is a pretty honest and thoughtful story about loneliness and the things that truly make us happy. But lets not concern ourselves so much with peeling back layers, as there is plenty to love right on the surface. On said surface, this film is dark — really, really dark. It is the type of movie that your average Hollywood studio wouldn’t dare make, the type of film that won’t speak to anyone. But if you are that right kind of person — including, but not limited to bearded movie geeks at Sundance — you are going to laugh your ass off, plain and simple. It is outrageous, divisive and incredibly well executed.

This movie also speaks well to the hardcore movie geek. From the Santa Claus Conquers the Martians poster in Lance’s home to the recurring discussion topic of zombie movies — including a well-placed call out to Simon Pegg’s theory of zombie speed relativity — this movie is filled with subtle geek out moments that prove an attention to detail that is characteristic of a filmmaker who puts a lot of love into his film. Of course, he’s made a winner by putting a lot of other stuff in there as well, including countless memorable bits of lewd dialog, all delivered perfectly by young Daryl Sabara. It is hard to believe that the little kid from Spy Kids should have such a potty mouth. Robin Williams is also great in a role that feels unlike anything he’s ever done before. He is funny, but in a subtle and twisted way. He also holds some of the film’s serious moments together quite well.

In the end, it would appear that World’s Greatest Dad has earned itself a spot atop my list of favorites from this year’s fest. And with another four days of movies to be seen, I am still confident that it will remain near the top until the end. I can’t remember a time — especially not during this year’s fest — when I’ve laughed this hard for this long. Kudos to Mr. Goldthwait for not compromising and making a outrageously dark comedy with some serious gravitas.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)