Spending his directorial career in search of the proper script with the proper oddity to fit his established sense of humor, Bobcat Goldthwait has finally captured the secret formula with "World's Greatest Dad." A pitch-perfect black comedy, "Dad" drips with the sort of acidic smile that Goldthwait has built a career upon, bravely marching forward as not only one of the most uproarious films of the year, but perhaps the most accurate depiction of teen bile ever to grace the screen. It's a double miracle: a stupendous comedy and a great argument for mass sterilization.
Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) is a high school teacher of poetry, a failed novelist, and father to teenager Kyle (Daryl Sabara). Feeling the failures of his life smothering his spirit, Lance also must contend with Kyle's mean-spirited behavior and general smarm, finding the apple of his eye has matured into a loudmouth pervert. When a freak accident befalls Kyle, Lance decides to twist the opportunity to benefit his stalled writing career, drawing sympathy from noncommittal girlfriend Claire (a fantastically game Alexie Gilmore), renewing interest in his classroom teachings, and achieving literary success that makes him a household name. It's the perfect life, as long as Lance's conscience can hold out.
"Dad" is the most mature directorial offering from Goldthwait to date, keeping close to his trademarked idiosyncratic ways of sensitivity while sharpening his satiric aim to sniper-level perfection. After directing an alcoholic clown movie ("Shakes the Clown") and a bestiality romantic comedy ("Sleeping Dogs Lie"), "Dad" muffles Goldthwait's button pushing ways, rechanneling his mischievous side to service a softly executed story of fraud and remorse. The film is a laugh riot for the duration of its running time, but Goldthwait filters his targets more succinctly with this picture, showcasing alternating ripples of restraint and farce that impart the material with an unpredictable plan of attack, thus accentuating the wicked turns of the plot.
Assuming a "Heathers" tone of darkly comic fearlessness, "Dad" gets away with some rather acerbic material. The character of Kyle is the centerpiece of "Dad," a high school outcast with an outstandingly vulgar mind that he freely shares with the outside world. Kyle is a bastard, and better yet, a teenaged bastard, bellowing insults with a monotone attitude and tattooed cynicism. He's also a fan of dangerous masturbatory practices, which becomes a major concern for both the movie and for Lance, who watches as his one and only boy curdles into a disgusting monster he's unable to fully dismiss due to parental contract. Fighting a stealthy relationship with a co-worker, his own artistic insecurity, and now his beloved child, Goldthwait ingeniously backs Lance into a terrifying corner. How the script emerges from this pickle is a place of extreme spoiler territory and delicious screen surprise. However, it must be noted that Goldthwait achieves a winning tonal equilibrium early on, and nothing in the script seems to knock him off balance.
As the conductor of this bizarre train to pure immorality, Robin Williams contributes his finest performance in quite some time. As the withered Lance, Williams locates flawless shades of distress and resignation with his soured life and times, hitting confident notes of jealously as the character begins to unravel in sudden ways. Backing him perfectly is Sabara, stomping around the picture as Kyle, the Godzilla of teen mockery nightmares. It's a brutal performance that taps directly into every parental fear of adolescent development gone awry, forming this moaning, wicked personality who only bothers to rise in the morning to service his own vile desires. Sabara has the strut and spittle down pat, and his moments of torment are hilarious to behold, that is when they didn't have me Google searching nearby vasectomy doctors.
Boasting a VC-1 encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio), "World's Greatest Dad" offers a clear, rich image for the viewer, who might not always be inclined to watch these events unfold. Light grain lends the presentation an excellent film-like quality, with bright, buoyant colors and superb facial detail - the disc even preserves the thin sheen of oil on Kyle's face, which catches the light perfectly. Shadow detail isn't consistent, and some of the more critical passages of the photography swerve into inky blobs. Locations are expressive and lovely, while interiors benefit from an intentional amber glow, which registers superbly on this BD.
The DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix runs somewhat thin and tinny with numerous dialogue exchanges, but the overall clarity and articulation of emotions comes through fine. Soundtrack selections are magnificent, really standing tall on the track, furthering intended moods wonderfully. High school hallway atmospherics are handled well, faintly filling in the surrounds. Overall audio remains subdued, which fits into the film's goals to use sound sparingly.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
Admitting that he's on a handful of pain pills to help with the two-day-old results of back surgery, the feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait offers a little more of a freewheeling conversation than previous tracks with the filmmaker. Goldthwait is always a scream to listen to, but the "Dad" track excels at delivering useful BTS info on the making of the film, with special attention paid to Goldthwait's inspirations (the script was banged out in five days) and time spent directing close pal Robin Williams. The filmmaker doesn't always stay on task, but his stream of consciousness acceleration here takes the focus to a few blissfully unexpected areas, including time spent discussing the peculiarity of people who review BD/DVD commentary tracks. Goldthwait is compelling, educational, candid, and provides a few belly laughs along the way. It's a splendid listen.
"Deleted Scenes" (4:07) offer only insignificant connective tissue, with the exception of a dream sequence, where Lance catches Kyle enjoying his sexual exploits on a computer screen. Odd, but funny.
"Outtakes" (1:53) only present four moments of on-set mix-em-ups, the best being Goldthwait's first take as an actor on the film, where he promptly forgets his lines.
"Behind the Scenes: WWBCD" (18:35) is a marvelous featurette shot by Goldthwait's daughter. Asking the cast and crew for their thoughts on the story and meaning of the film, the mini-doc captures a range of puzzled and articulate reactions that make the sit worthwhile. There's also a nice arrangement of BTS footage to enjoy, packaged smartly by the production.
"HDNet: A Look at 'World's Greatest Dad'" (4:42) is a traditional cable promotional stop, though it does offer another chance to hear Goldthwait talk up his movie.
"'I Hope I Become a Ghost' Music Video" (4:12) is a surreal, animated clip from the band The Deadly Syndrome. Funky and charmingly minimal.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
"World's Greatest Dad" is a cutting, sinful gem, sending up the self-help culture of celebrity with pinpoint accuracy while spreading its own domestic diseases and inadvertent warnings on passive parenting. It's a modest production of limited coin, but that never slows its imagination and thirst for discomfort. If this is the Bobcat Goldthwait career turning point, I cheer the arrival of an imaginative filmmaker capable of spinning the mundane humiliations of life into splendid fodder for fantastic, chilling comedies.