It feels good to laugh. It feels even better when we shouldn’t be laughing. After reading about World’s Greatest Dad on Kim Carter’s blog, which made mention of John Waters’ stamp of approval, I was anxious and curious to see what Bobcat Goldthwait had cooked up. Yes, the Bobcat Goldthwait. What followed was a brilliantly dark comedy and satire of American life.
The film begins with Robin Williams character, the timid, people-pleasing Lance, stating that he wanted to provide people with something that explained the human condition and aided them along the chaotic journey of life. Soon we are introduced to the cavalcade of superficial students and simple-minded co-workers who Lance encounters daily at his high school teaching job. They’re all a bunch of zombies (coincidentally Lance enjoys movies about the brain-feeding automatons) except for one: his obnoxious, free-wheeling son Kyle.
Kyle, outside of Andrew, has no friends. He has no hobbies, aside from autoerotic asphyxiation and various types of taboo pornography. He is a terrible son to a loving father and bad friend to a loyal companion, Andrew. He is rude, obscene and crass. The only quality Kyle has going for him is his integrity. It may be a stretch to say that someone who takes crotch shots of his father’s girlfriend during dinner has integrity, but it will have to do for lack of a better word.
Kyle might not be perfect, but he is honest. OK, maybe he lies to manipulate his father into buying him things or to get out of trouble, but he makes no apologies for what he is. Kyle is not ashamed that he is a pervert, a sexual deviant, an irritant or an obnoxious jack ass. He is very nearly proud of these achievements, a fact his father would rather ignore.
Lance tries to cover up Kyle’s death, and life as it were, by adding layer and depth to someone who was, as put by Lance in a brilliant climactic scene, “a douche bag.” Bobcat makes use of the montage in three scenes that represent the genesis of Kyle’s posthumous celebrity and Lance’s rise to unbridled and undeserved fame. The three montages show Kyle’s staged suicide, the publishing of his forged suicide note and the subsequent flurry of emotions, and finally the arrival of his fictitious journal on school grounds. Each montage heightens the frenzy surrounding the deceased and Lance while displaying the latter’s uncomfortably with his new found fame.
World’s Greatest Dad is an exploration of moral crisis. Bobcat places Lance in a situation so precarious that anyone could understand his actions. His intentions were to present Kyle, in death, as a decent human being. Later he used Kyle to gain much deserved fame and love from his non-committal girlfriend, using the meaning he brought to Kyle’s life and the potential suicides he stopped as justification. In the end Lance learned that it was all secondary, that the highest principle, above all else, is the truth. At the end of the film Lance is able to flip Kyle’s picture up, no longer too ashamed to have his son’s eyes stare back at him.
The film is filled with wonderful satire and great moments that are beautiful blends of drama and comedy. Perhaps the best example is Robin Williams’ Lance staring at the porno magazines at a newsstand and breaking out in tears in memory of his son. Only after accepting Kyle’s true behavior was Lance able to purge himself. In a climactic scene he confesses his crimes, strips off his clothes, liberated, and jumps into the school pool.
Robin Williams is brilliant as an angst ridden father, ignored by the world; he learns that he is better of with the world ignoring him. A world that started a veritable cult based on a kid everyone hated. The film begs the question, is it worth being worshipped by these people? Isn’t anonymity better than acceptance by people you do not respect? Kyle is a mirror for society. He is too angry to know why he’s angry, but he can smell superficiality a mile away and it sickens him.
In the end Lance, his elderly neighbor, and Andrew end up watching zombie movies together. They are the only sincere people left, unscathed by society’s want to bend them into the single-mindedness that plagues nearly everyone. Bobcat’s film shows the difficulty of being yourself, in the most un-cliché way, in a world that would have you be someone else. The tragedy of Lance’s life is that no one will care about his feelings until he is dead. He always felt the way he did, but no one cared until it was combined with sensationalism.
It is only fitting that Bobcat’s effort is overlooked by so many. He is Lance and his film Kyle, a mirror for the rest of the world to see themselves in. Of course most audiences don’t want to be confronted with the truth about their situations. We can only hope that Bobcat will continue to use his unique (artistic) voice to create powerful films. I plan to watch it happen.