Tuesday, May 19, 2009

IFFB 2009 Closing Night: World's Greatest Dad

I think I may have said this at the end of the SXSW postings, but it bears repeating: The end of a film festival is a weird feeling. Or maybe a weird lack of feeling; as much as I can't ever remember feeling like I wished the whole thing was done already before the end, I've also never walked out of the closing night film and said I wished there was more. I've wished I could stay longer at Fantasia, when I was doing half-festivals, but that's a different thing.

Writing up the reviews is a different thing, though. I can't wait to occasionally spend my bus ride home just reading a book, and not feeling like I've got some obligation to review something I was given a pass for.

The last night of IFFB 09 was a lot of fun, though. It was the only night at the Coolidge, the rain (aside from a few very tiny sprinkles) held off while everybody was waiting in the outside line, and Bobcat Goldthwait, as one might expect of a professional funny person, was a massively entertaining guest. His speech is pretty normal now, although bits of his on-the-edge-of-a-breakdown stand-up delivery still appear now and again. I don't know if you'd say he's hit middle age gracefully, but he'll jokingly refer to himself as "grandpa" whenever he hits a point in a story where he, as a guy once considered cool and edgy, seems conservative or behind the times.

Of course, he can still bust out the inappropriate jokes - that's the bread and butter of World's Greatest Dad, after all. Also, during the Q&A, someone asked if a certain character was played by one of the former members of Nirvana, and he said yeah, he told the guy he was making a movie about someone who died and everyone acted like he was smarter and more important than he was... sound like anything you can identify with?

He apologized after that, of course, and didn't even attempt to hide that he was really nervous about the screening. The Coolidge was a favorite theater of his growing up, and this sort of movie must terrify a filmmaker; hit the wrong note and its a disaster. He was genuinely relieved that we laughed in the right places and didn't in the others, and said that he'd called star Robin Williams during the screening to say it was going well. I guess maybe there really is a rich vein of insecurity in most comedians.

For Love of the Movies

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2009 at the Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston Closing Night)

World's Greatest Dad is deliciously black comedy, the sort that revels not just in how horrible the characters can be, but also regularly raises that bar by going for absurdity as well. That's not terribly uncommon; lots of filmmakers, comedians, and other creative types have a bunch of mean jokes inside them. What's kind of amazing about this one is that writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait and star Robin Williams manage to create a great deal of empathy for the title character even as he goes so very wrong.

Williams' Lance Clayton dreams not of being a writer, but of being published (he's got multiple rejection slips for each manuscript). In the meantime, he teaches high-school English at the high school his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) attends, and though the principal has just told him that they'll be dropping his poetry class if enrollment doesn't improve, things aren't all bad. He's got a good thing going with fellow teacher Claire (Alexie Gilmore), and a son who... Well, who quite honestly, is a rude, porn-obsessed jackass. After a night out with Claire, he returns home to find he's lost Kyle. Crushed, and not wanting to face awkward questions, he writes a note to explain; when students respond to it and ask if Kyle had written anything else, Lance fakes a journal. The journal becomes a sensation, and Lance is only too happy to bask in the attention his writing is finally receiving - even if Kyle's best friend Andrew (Evan Martin) questions whether a slow, pervy tool like Kyle could possibly have written it.

Over the course of his career, Robin Williams's most notable roles have been extreme types: He's best known for hyperactive, motormouthed characters in movies that slather the sentiment on with a ladle, but has enough against-type, creepy parts that you can't mention the first without the latter. Here, he finds an unusually good balance between the two. Lance is quick-witted and frequently funny, but never gets so into it that the audience just dismisses it as Williams doing his shtick, but he's also unnerving as he goes down a path that is maybe not quite dark, in the traditional sense, but certainly questionable. The result is that he convinces us that a series of choices that immediately seem wrong also seem, given this situation and this character, reasonable. He's a believable guy amid a fair amount of unbelievable situations.

Complete review at eFilmCritic, along with one other review.


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