EIFF 2010 reviews World's Greatest Dad

Originally published on June 18, 2010 | The Scotsman | written by Alistair Harkness

Robin Williams is back on form in a very black comedy, and although the plotting could have done with a polish, it holds together - unlike an ill-conceived story of birdwatchers and an Aussie Western

IN World's Greatest Dad (***), Robin Williams gets the best showcase he's had for his comic talents in well over a decade. Thank writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait for tapping into the darker side Williams explored to such satisfying effect in One Hour Photo and Insomia and putting this to use in a pitch-black comedy that takes aim at the sometimes-sickening way people mythologise the dead.

Neatly subverting his most famous film role in Dead Poet's Society, Williams plays Lance, an unpopular poetry teacher a million miles away from that film's inspirational optimist. An unpublished would-be writer with nothing to show for his efforts, his life is a catalogue of disappointments, none more so than the teenage son he's raising by himself.

This is Kyle, an unpopular and problematic 15-year-old student at Lance's school whose online viewing habits and onanistic experimentation run to the more extreme end of the sexual spectrum.

Played to obnoxious perfection with an admirable lack of shame by former Spy Kids star Daryl Sabara, Kyle is a wonderfully belligerent creation, horrifyingly believable, yet, in a strange way, oddly likeable.

As the irony-drenched title implies, the film hinges on Lance and Kyle's strained relationship, but Goldthwait puts a twist on this that helps the film reach new levels of knuckle-gnawing discomfort. This mostly involves Lance suddenly finding himself willing and able to exploit Kyle's life to fulfil his own dream of becoming a published writer, but it's to the film's credit that this doesn't happen in quite the way you might expect (autoerotic asphyxiation and piano-playing MOR troubador Bruce Hornsby figure prominently).

Goldthwait, whose previous film, Sleeping Dogs Lie, could loosely be described as a bestiality-themed romcom, is good at weaving the freakishly perverse into the everyday without the results seeming too forced, but he's less successful at tying the film's loose ends together in a satisfying way that doesn't seem contrived. Still, it's good to see Williams in something more worthy of both his comedic and dramatic abilities

World's Greatest Dad is at the Cameo, tonight, 8:25pm and Cineworld, 26 June, 6:15pm. (Edinburgh International Film Festival)

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