Life after death? Not so terrible in "World's Greatest Dad

By Amy Shaunette

It’s not the usual death scene. Robin Williams kneels over his dead son, collecting balled-up tissues and an economy-size bottle of lotion. He loosens the belt tied tightly around his son’s neck. Life’s going to be great from now on.In “World’s Greatest Dad,” the latest black comedy from writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait, Williams plays Lance Clayton, a middle-aged single father utterly defeated by life. The structure of the film is vaguely theatrical, with each half functioning as an individual act. Act I details Lance’s miserable existence. A struggling writer with a canon of rejected manuscripts, Lance teaches an unpopular poetry class at his son’s high school. His girlfriend neglects him, he has no friends, and his son, Kyle, is, in Lance’s own words, “a douchebag,” obsessed with misogyny, video games and disgusting subcategories of porn. The curtains close on Act I when Lance finds his son motionless in his room, his lifeless skin turning blue, a scene of death by autoerotic asphyxiation.

In the second “act” of the film, Lance learns that there is no one as popular as the father of a deceased child, except for the late child himself. Ashamed of his son’s peculiar sexual exploits, Lance stages the death as a suicide. Kyle becomes a local hero, the posterchild for the importance of sound mental health. Forgetting how much they had hated Kyle, faculty and students flock to Lance, who finds himself leading a completely different life. As a bizarre coping mechanism, Lance writes Kyle’s fictional diary and releases it as his son’s actual journal, attracting publishers and talk show hosts. Ultimately, Lance decides that achieving his goals isn’t worth living a lie.

Goldthwait, whose previous films explore bestiality and alcoholic clowns, is a master of the black comedy. The screenplay is surreal, infused with sharp one-liners and strange quirks. Kyle’s faults are so over-the-top that one is too busy laughing to feel too sad about Lance’s situation, though this is not to say Williams doesn’t give a convincing performance. “World’s Greatest Dad” showcases the actor’s ability to inspire tears as well as laughs; Williams is able to manipulate his features into a heartbreaking sad face. But how can a movie about a down-and-out dad who loses his son to autoerotic asphyxiation be funny? With Goldthwait in the driver’s seat, how could it not be? “World’s Greatest Dad” is brilliant.