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World's Greatest Dad charmingly dark
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World's Greatest Dad charmingly dark

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

World's Greatest Dad
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Humans love labels. We like to know what things are. We like everything to fit into a prescribed box with a tidy label. Movies are no exception.

There are action flicks, dramas, dramedies, comedies, costume dramas, horror movies, sci-fi films, suspense thrillers, and black comedies. Hollywood is usually heavily invested in making certain you know exactly what you're watching. Hollywood knows we like boxes.

In spite of the fact that this is a good movie, our desire for movies to fit into a prescribed genre is just one reason why World's Greatest Dad is a tough film to love. It simply refuses to fit into a box.

Though it may be dramedy, dark comic drama, or black comedy, World's Greatest Dad starts out looking like any number of Robin Williams vehicles. It even reminded me of a low-rent version of Dead Poets Society for the first 20 minutes. But then it takes a charmingly dark turn.

Lance Clayton (Williams) is a frustrated writer and single dad making a living by teaching high school while he collects rejection letters. His son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is a knuckle-dragging little jerk with a penchant for autoerotic asphyxiation.

About 20 minutes in, Kyle dies and the fun begins. Lance fakes a book of Kyle's writing and suddenly Kyle is posthumously turned into a misunderstood teenaged martyr complete with his own line of T-shirts.

The movie is more complicated than my woefully inadequate synopsis. Trust me, it will be more fun if you go see the movie and fill in the gaps yourself. However, I will tell you this film is about how humans create affirmation for themselves. It's also about the pitfalls of ethics and rehabbing the dead. It's about doing things for complicated reasons that seem altruistic and selfish at the same time. It's about how our actions and intentions rarely fit into a prescribed box with an easy label.

Williams is pleasantly restrained as the everyman who's given up on fame and fortune. I often forget that he can act if he gets some honest direction. The other adult actors are stuck with flat, stereotypical characters whose central purposes are allegorical - sort of. You have the pretty girlfriend who's waiting on a better deal. You have the intelligent jock who has it all, including a shot at being the better deal. These aren't really characters so much as stand-ins for what makes us tick: jealousy and desire.

It's the kids who shine in the acting department. Sabara is terrific as the oafish lump with a dirty mind and a nasty mouth. The role is thankless, but Sabara owns it from the start. And just when you're thinking you wish he'd die, he does.

A couple of other youngsters give standout performances, as well. Evan Martin plays Andrew, Kyle's best friend. He's perfect as the awkward teen who'll do anything to keep from going home to his alcoholic mother. It's never stated overtly, but I somehow felt that Andrew was more interested in Lance as an alternative father figure than Kyle as a friend and Martin makes that happen with sophisticated subtlety.

Lorraine Nicholson (yes, she's Jack's daughter) proves that acting can be genetic as she steals scenes playing a goth girl who falls for a dead boy. Though every goth girl worth her salt falls for a dead boy at some point, Nicholson escapes the quicksand that often mires actors portraying such stereotypical characters.

Bobcat Goldthwait is quickly becoming the Terrence Malick of black comedy: World's Greatest Dad, his second feature film, comes 18 years after his directorial debut, Shakes the Clown, a film I have loved from the start. While Shakes the Clown never lets you forget it's a black comedy, World's Greatest Dad tries to deny it at every turn. In the end, World's Greatest Dad is, though tinged with moments of high drama, most assuredly a black comedy - and a good one at that.

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