To a greater extent than Sleeping Dogs Lie, Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad clumsily straddles the line between comedy and drama, its story neither outrageous enough to be funny nor substantial enough to be moving. The wannabe-shocking nexus of Goldthwait’s latest directorial effort involves high school prick Kyle (Daryl Sabara) talking endlessly about extreme porn and “fags,” cursing off his doormat of a father, poetry teacher Lance (Robin Williams), and, after a distended setup that cements Kyle’s repugnance, accidentally killing himself during some autoerotic asphyxiation. Lance chooses to stage Kyle’s demise as a suicide and writes a farewell note in which his douchebag son comes off as a misunderstood lost soul. Once the letter becomes public, Lance’s act of rehabilitation on his son’s behalf affords a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone opportunity, as Kyle’s reputation—and Lance’s, as a father—is restored by a student body eager to posthumously relate to the loathsome departed, and Lance’s subsequent penning of Kyle’s journal helps him achieve his aspirations to be a novelist.
Goldthwait’s aesthetic remains crude, here heavily reliant on music montages set to on-the-nose lyrics. More frustrating still, however, is that despite his conceit’s potential for investigating loneliness, self-deception, and the malleable and easily exploitable nature of memory, Goldthwait’s zigzagging script keeps things surface-trivial while failing to meld its discordant tendencies. Sentimentality neuters its faux-ribald humor (after the insanity of Brüno, uttering the word “feltching” hardly qualifies as scandalous), which in turn trivializes its somberness.
In World’s Greatest Dad, everyone is a phony, from the students who choose to lionize the kid they hated, to Lance’s tease colleague (Alexie Gilmore) who fully commits to a romantic relationship only once his star has risen, a situation that doesn’t address Lance’s central moral dilemma—should he behave ethically or behave in a selfish manner that will make him seem ethical?—yet does provide many situations for dreary “black” comedy. Williams underplays his role nicely, albeit at times to the point of obscuring his character’s moment-to-moment motivations, but he’s ultimately not the problem, just the most notable victim of a sub-Judd Apatow sick-and-sweet film overly desperate to both traumatize and touch.