Monday, December 21, 2009

Movie Log: World's Greatest Dad

Robin Williams has not completely become an unfunny showboating motormouth, no matter how much it may seem so when his big movies are being advertised every three minutes on TV. I wouldn't quite go so far as to say that World's Greatest Dad makes up for Old Dogs (shudder), but it does show that Williams still does have talent and smarts -- not to mention balls, for choosing a movie like this.

This is a dark comedy, with Williams as Lance Clayton, a mediocre high school English teacher who can't seem to attract more than a tiny handful of students to his poetry class. His teenage son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara, gleefully showing he's not just the Spy Kids kid), is a complete jerk. Actually, that might not be going far enough -- Kyle is an asshole, of the kind that only a self-absorbed (and slightly dim) teenage boy can be, but his father loves him, even when it's impossible to like him. Lance is also sort-of dating fellow teacher Murphy (Morgan Murphy, in one of a good half-dozen major parts going to first-time movie actors -- whoever cast this movie also had balls, and did a fine job), who hides their relationship at school. But she's also flirting with more successful English teacher Mike Lane (Henry Simmons), which grates on Lance.

There's a big event in the movie that most reviews and descriptions of this movie give away, but it happens close to halfway through, so I don't feel that I should mention it. On the other hand, I did say that this is a dark comedy, so perhaps that heavy-handed hint will work. Things get dark, and there's a scene I found remarkably emotional and true, even set to music and coming in the middle of a black comedy. And then it gets quite funny, in sly and lacerating ways. Throughout it all, Williams underplays his role, just like a real middle-aged man -- I hadn't thought Williams could still underplay anything, but he's quite good here, occasionally stuttery and tongue-tied and always slightly forlorn and knocked about by life.

The end of World's Greatest Dad -- the big reveal and the moments afterward -- don't work quite as well as they could have; it's solid but doesn't push the movie upward the way it should. There's another moment tied to music, and it's a good call-back to earlier in the movie and almost creates the catharsis we want...but not quite. The movie doesn't make the case strongly enough for that moment, and so it feels refreshing rather than transcendent.

Still, this is a fine black comedy, and there's few enough of those. And it's great to see that Williams still knows how to act, and is willing to do it.
Listening to: The Long Blondes - I'm Going To Hell
via FoxyTunes

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