World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

Rated: R for language, crude and sexual content, some drug use and disturbing images.
Length: 99 minutes
Grade: F/BFBB=D
Budget: $10 million
Box Office: $223,000

Written and directed by: Bobcat Goldthwaite (Sleeping Dogs Lie)
Starring: Robin Williams
With: Daryl Sabara, Morgan Murphy, Evan Martin, and Henry Simmons

Lance Clayton aspires to be a novelist, but instead he teaches a dwindling high school poetry class, has a relationship with another teacher who’s too ashamed of him to be seen in public together, and his son is a consummate jerk. When Kyle (his son) dies perversely, Lance pretends it was suicide and fakes a note and journal. This leads to a cult of Kyle with Lance as the beneficiary on all fronts.

Entertainment Value: F/B
The first half of this film is unwatchably bad. I actually quit about 45 minutes into it, but Rotten Tomatoes said 88%, so I forced myself to continue. Oddly, the second half is brilliant. Funny, poignant, insightful. Then the almost ending is horrible again and the final ending awesome. It’s such a schizophrenic movie. I can’t tell you to watch it. It’s not really worth enduring the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. But having watched it, I will say that the second half is genius satire on death cults and modern fame. Even the ending is wonderful, except for naked Robin Williams in the swimming pool. That was imbecilic.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity F, Violence C, Language F
This is a for-adults-only film, if at all. There’s a death and a fistfight, but that’s the least of the concerns. Language is very heavy. Characters get high on marijuana and drink alcohol. Several sex scenes, and lots (lots!) of filthy discussion or behavior. This is absolutely not for kids!

Significant Content: B
Be careful what you wish for. You may get it and hate yourself for it. People don’t care about those they idolize, they only care about the satisfaction it gives them to idolize them. People read themselves into other people to worship this projection. Your true friends are the ones who love you for exactly who you really are, not for who you pretend to be. When you succeed on a lie, the success is more burden than any amount of genuine failure could possibly be. The worst thing in life isn’t being all alone, but being with people who make you feel all alone. Modern media is absurd, as are modern people.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
In some sense, this is a fascinating exploration of the Noble Lie concept of Plato. When, if ever, is it useful to lie? But it’s also a fantastic expose on the absurdity of public opinion compared to merit.

Discussion Questions:
~If you could fabricate a story that made everyone’s lives better but it was premised on a complete lie, would you tell it? If you had already told it, would you take it and its benefits away by admitting the truth? What is generosity? What is selfish? These are the sort of questions raised here. What do you think of each of Lance’s decisions in this movie?
~Have you ever had the chance to experience acceptance and praise for a lie and rejection for a truth? Which is more satisfying? Why does love when it is based on dishonesty actually hurt more than rejection?
~Which matters more: who a person really is or who people think that person is, even after his death?
~Kyle’s friend, Andrew, has a peculiar relationship with Lance throughout the movie. Would you say that Andrew represents God in this film?
~What does Murphy (the girlfriend) represent? Is she supposed to be fame and popularity?
~What’s sadder: the loss of actual Kyle or the possibility of the loss of his fake meaning to the school?
~Why does it seem to make such a difference whether the writings came from a misunderstood suicidal boy or from the talented parent of a worthless jerk?
~If you had to summarize the point(s) of this movie, what are they?
~Which is worse, to be all alone or to be surrounded by people who don’t know or love the real you? Why do you think famous people suffer so much? Are people who, for instance, publish anonymously smarter than the rest?
~What’s the title supposed to mean?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~When the suicide note is being read all around the school in the paper.
~The Oprah-like interview.
~The very ending. Who are Lance’s real friends? Why? What is the symbolic significance of putting Kyle’s photo back up? What did it mean during the movie?

Overall Grade: D
I would never encourage someone to endure the first half (disturbing and vulgar) or the penultimate scene (vulgar enough) to get what’s valuable in the rest. Nevertheless, the remainder is both brilliant satire and even moderately inspirational, if understood properly.

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