The legacy of Robin Williams is the gift that keeps on giving. He was undeniably one of our greatest comedic performers with such classics as “Aladdin,” “The Birdcage,” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” but perhaps one of his most memorable performances came in the form of director Bobcat Goldthwait’s dark comedy “World’s Greatest Dad.” The film stars Williams as Lance Clayton, an aspiring author whose pile of manuscripts have gone ignored by publishers for years. Without a prosperous writing career, he continues his unfulfilling position as a high school poetry teacher, in which barely anyone attends his class. When tragedy unexpectedly strikes his contemptible teenage son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara), Lance takes advantage and seizes his big break by publishing a fake journal – complete with a suicide note – which goes on to become a best-seller.
“World’s Greatest Dad” doesn’t pull any of its punches and lets you simmer in a storm of uncomfortable feelings and even more uncomfortable laughs, as Williams once again gets to show his incredible range as a performer. It’s almost unfathomable to think of anyone else playing this part, but nevertheless that almost happened. In an interview with Female, Robin Williams recounts how close he came to only making a cameo in the movie:
“Initially, I read it as a favor. I said, ‘Listen, maybe if I do a cameo, it’ll help you get it made.’ Then I read it and went, ‘I’ll do it. I’d really like to do Lance, the main character.’ And not as like, ‘This would be good for my friend,’ but like, ‘No, this is really good.'”
The art of being an awful person
Not only is Goldthwait’s film a darkly funny comedy about a father puppeteering his son’s death into a hilariously monstrous media frenzy, but it’s also a scathing takedown of the people who take advantage of someone’s passing, whether they’re the orchestrator like Lance or the student/faculty cluster who don rose-colored glasses in the aftermath. Even when he’s going on talk shows and pretending his son was a secretly troubled angel who was taken too soon, Lance’s plight to be recognized is relatable, while the film fully acknowledges what he’s doing is pretty heinous.
In an interview with Vulture, Goldthwait stresses how Williams’ being unlikable is vital to the film:
“Sometimes people go, “I didn’t like the character of Lance at the beginning of the movie,’ and I go, ‘Yeah, you shouldn’t.’ He wants to be rich and famous to meet a bunch of broads. He thinks that can fix him. You’re not supposed to like him, but you’re supposed to relate to him. Either you know people like that or you yourself should grow up.'”
Perhaps one of the reasons why Robin Williams shined whenever he had to play unlikable characters was because of how much it challenges your perception of the comedic actor. I could never see him quite the same way after being exposed to “One Hour Photo.” He was such an affable, loving person with charm to spare, and in that thriller, he sheds that image. In the case of “World’s Greatest Dad,” you’re presented with a character who takes a morally reprehensible path forward regarding the death of his horrible son, and in doing so, discovers a world where he’s rewarded for his actions. It’s despicable in an entirely different way.
Sabara of “Spy Kids” fame plays Kyle, an absolutely vile high school student who spouts derogatory, homophobic slurs with the fluidity of breathing air. And that’s not even mentioning how he shares unsolicited pics of Lance’s girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore) he stealthily snapped underneath the table. If his autoerotic asphyxiation accident didn’t take a deadly turn, it probably would have been a matter of time until the grimy incel on training wheels did something much, much worse. The film’s inhabitants are well aware of this, but it’s Goldthwait’s clever screenplay that takes these side characters, once filled with disdain for the wretched little twerp, and shows how, in some ways, their revisionist memorialization of Kyle is but a slightly different variation on what Lance is doing. We’re just glad Robin Williams was there to help bring balance to this dark comedy.
“World’s Greatest Dad” is currently available to stream on HBO Max.