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World's Greatest Dad DVD Review

World's Greatest Dad (2009) movie poster World's Greatest Dad

Theatrical Release: August 21, 2009 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Bobcat Goldthwait

Cast: Robin Williams (Lance Clayton), Alexie Gilmore (Claire Reed), Daryl Sabara (Kyle Clayton), Geoff Pierson (Principal Anderson), Henry Simmons (Mike Lane), Mitzi McCall (Bonnie), Evan Martin (Andrew Trautman), Jermaine Williams (Jason), Tony V. (Dr. Pentola), Lorraine Nicholson (Heather), Zach Sanchez (Peter), Naomi Glick (Ginger), Morgan Murphy (Morgan), Toby Huss (Bert Green), Dan Spencer (Dan Spencer), Tom Kenny (Jerry Klein), Jill Talley (Make-Up Woman), Bruce Hornsby (Bruce Hornsby)

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With its given title and Robin Williams as leading man, World's Greatest Dad could be mistaken for one of Williams' commercial comedy vehicles. Perhaps the DVD cover's biggest clue otherwise is the large print praise that surrounds the star.
Films like RV and the currently-playing Old Dogs may find sizable nationwide audiences, but they don't win critical accolades. In contrast, World's Greatest Dad earned some rave reviews but was shown in no more than thirty American theaters late this summer.

Dad is the fourth film written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, and the third to receive limited theatrical release. A comedian and actor for well over half his life, Goldthwait has kept behind the camera recently, having spent three years directing Jimmy Kimmel's late night talk show. While clearly distanced from the broadly-appealing comedy that was once (and to some degree, still is) Williams' bread and butter, this independent film also can't be lumped in with the dreary dramas the actor has repeatedly embraced this decade. An R-rated comedy of the darkest kind, Dad stands apart in Williams' resumι and 2009 cinema at large.

Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) has a strained relationship with his nihilistic teenaged son Kyle (Daryl Sabara). To the disgust of his one friend Andrew (Evan Martin), rotten egg Kyle (Daryl Sabara) discusses scatological European pornography.

Lance Clayton (Williams) introduces himself to viewers as a writer, one whose every novel, magazine article, and children's book has been rejected, not published. Paying the bills while his literary aspirations don't, Lance is also a teacher at a private high school. He isn't flourishing there; his poetry elective is unpopular enough to have its future questioned. Lance's underachieving teenaged son Kyle (Spy Kids alum Daryl Sabara) is faring worse. He is threatened with expulsion after a hallway skirmish.

Kyle is an extremely negative and vile young man. To him, everything is "gay" and "retarded", including music, movies, and his father. Kyle is rotten to Andrew (Evan Martin), the one kid foolish enough to hang around him, and only derives pleasure from increasingly perverted pornography and dangerous masturbatory practices. It's important to notice that there are absolutely no redeeming characteristics to this kid.

This major source of tension isn't enough to sour Lance. He makes efforts and time to appreciate, advise, and understand his son. Lance also maintains a surprisingly pleasant attitude, something made easier by his exciting relationship with flighty young art teacher Claire (Alexie Gilmore). She insists their liaison remain discreet, which especially troubles him when she starts publicly admiring the younger, cooler, and more athletic Mr. Lane (Henry Simmons).

Art teacher Claire Reed (Alexie Gilmore) wears a big smile at seeing Lance, but only when nobody's looking. Mr. Clayton (Robin Williams) finds his poetry elective more popular than ever, after his son's death is taken to heart by students like goth girl Heather (Lorraine Nicholson).

There is a major and surprising turning point, one which might be best left secret if more than half the runtime and the entire thrust of the film didn't rely on it. Lance comes home from cutting short a date with Claire only to find that Kyle has met his end via autoerotic asphyxiation.
When the intense grief of that shock wears off, Lance thinks to spare his bullied son some posthumous embarrassment by restaging the death as a standard suicide, complete with an impromptu typed note.

Back at school, the young death is initially viewed as a painful tragedy, but it soon develops into something bigger. A grief counselor is called in, the forged suicide note gets published in the school paper, and the student body entirely forgets Kyle's behavioral defects. The troubled kid becomes a hero, paid tribute by jocks, goths, and faculty alike. Seeing the value of the note, Lance goes ahead and creates an entire journal for his dead son. It too is eaten up, bringing increased attention from the media (and from singer Bruce Hornsby, who the soundtrack prominently features) and secretly stoking the father's lifelong dream of publication.

As you no doubt gather from that synopsis, World's Greatest Dad is about as dark scripturally as any contemporary major American film. Its tone and setting invite comparisons to movies like Election, Heathers, American Beauty, and The Virgin Suicides, but Dad largely avoids getting overtly dramatic, believing you can discover and interpret meaning yourself without being manipulated.

I have trouble sorting my reactions to the film. Certainly, this is a tough one to endure. The only character with a right to your sympathy abuses it by doing about the most unconscionable act of parenting, using his child's death to realize his aspirations. And yet, it is all those around him who enable it, glamorizing premature death and idolizing those who suffer it.

In its depictions, the film is painfully realistic and believable. Those are words almost never applied to comedies and they're certainly not ones I would expect to describe a film from the guy who made Shakes the Clown. The observations on human grief and mob mentality provide weight and substance. Clearly, more is said and meant here than in the vast majority of mainstream cinema. One never gets the impression that Goldthwait is aiming to shock or simply score cheap laughs. At the same time, it's tough to be kind to something so morbid and off-putting. What transcends in these 98 minutes rank among the least pleasant things I've encountered on a recent film. To sum up, this is something that's far easier to appreciate and contemplate than it is to enjoy.

With its minimal big screen run recently finished, World's Greatest Dad comes to DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday from Magnolia Home Entertainment.

Buy World's Greatest Dad on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (English)
Subtitles: Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: December 8, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $26.98)
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($29.98 $22.98)


There is nothing about this excellent 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer to suggest that World's Greatest Dad was made for a fraction of the cost of most modern movies. The picture is perfectly clean, sharp, and detailed. Nary a flaw is found. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack stays in the front channels and is always clear and intelligible, which makes the lack of English subtitles more acceptable than usual.

Popular younger English teacher Mike Lane (Henry Simmons) confronts Lance in this deleted scene. Pianist/singer Bruce Hornsby doesn't mess up as actor, but he still makes it into the Outtakes section. Actress Alexie Gilmore dresses up like an old-timey reporter to interview Robin Williams in "Behind the Scenes: WWBCD?"


Bonus features begin with an audio commentary by writer/director/actor Bobcat Goldthwait. As a fan of commentaries who's bothered by dead air, he forces himself to keep talking (while on pain medication, two days after back surgery). Goldthwait reveals himself to be intelligent, articulate, and candid. He discusses actors as they appear, the state of contemporary comedy (this film isn't dark, everything else is just too light), and where characters fall on the heroes/villains scale. He also reveals his influences (from Hal Ashby to Wes Anderson), defends the film against criticisms, and confesses how he feels about the teenaged demographic.
Goldthwait doesn't let a point or moment pass without addressing it, doling out an impressive amount of inside facts and elaboration. This is an unusually good commentary that's well worth a listen.

On the video front, we get five short Deleted Scenes (4:08). With the exception of a strange nightmare scene, they're unremarkable and not missed, but worth seeing here.

Rather than the usual reel of hijinks, "Outtakes" (1:52) gives us just four humorously botched takes.

"Behind the Scenes: WWBCD?" (18:35) is a down-to-earth making-of featurette created by Goldthwait's daughter Tasha. It asks cast and crew members to describe the film and shows us plenty of semi-candid footage from the sets. It's a refreshing alternative to standard polished EPK videos.

You may recognize writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait from his acting work in three "Police Academy" sequels and "Scrooged." Here, he discusses his latest film for HDNet. An animated ghost and robot interact in The Deadly Syndrome's grainy "I Hope I Become a Ghost" music video. Robin Williams gets a moment in the main menu's photo frame montage.

"HDNet: A Look at World's Greatest Dad" (4:42) promotes the film with clips and, more importantly, amusing yet earnest comments from Goldthwait about his intentions, his career, and his cameo.

Next comes the music video for The Deadly Syndrome's "I Hope I Become a Ghost", a song featuring in one of the film's most memorable montages. The interesting video (4:11) animates two characters (a mustachioed ghost and a map-wielding robot) in grainy footage of a house and a city.

Finally, "Also from Magnolia Home Entertainment" runs through all the same things that play at disc insertion, trailers for The Burning Plain, Outrage, Ong Bak 2: The Beginning, and (red band) Bronson plus an ad for HDNet.

The main menu uses the integral mantle photo frame to hold a montage of clips. There are no inserts in the keepcase.

On a talk show to discuss his late son's inspiring journal (which he actually wrote), Lance can't hold back a burst of mixed emotion that Robin Williams calls a genuine nervous breakdown. A picture that Kyle hated in life becomes the cover shot of his published diary.


World's Greatest Dad is definitely not your typical Robin Williams comedy. This pitch-black satire is one of the most warped and disturbing films you'll see this year. It's never boring and gives you plenty to chew on, two facts that surprise based on writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait's past. Unless you have extremely dark tastes, I don't think you'll be able to say you liked this movie, but it's much too substantial to dismiss over detestable characters and a distasteful story. If you're one of the few who caught and enjoyed this in theaters, you'll be pleased with the adequate DVD package Magnolia has given the film, especially Goldthwait's revealing commentary.

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Related Reviews:
New: Julie & Julia • Four Christmases • Up • Say Anything... (20th Anniversary Edition) • It's a Wonderful Life
Independent Comedies: Away We Go • Whatever Works • Adventureland • The TV Set • The Wendell Baker Story
Juno • Superbad • The Foot Fist Way • The Darjeeling Limited • Bottle Rocket • Popular: The Complete Second Season

The Films of Robin Williams:
Dead Poets Society • Good Morning, Vietnam • The Night Listener • Night at the Museum
License to Wed • Old Dogs • Popeye • Mrs. Doubtfire • Aladdin • Aladdin and the King of Thieves

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Reviewed December 2, 2009.

Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 Darko Entertainment, Process, Jerkschool Productions, and Magnolia Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.