Stick with this one.
Early on, World’s Greatest Dad spends a lot of time convincing you that Robin Williams’ Lance Clayton, a high-school poetry teacher and failed author, is the world’s saddest sack, and that his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is the most aggressively unpleasant teenager you’ve ever met. With Williams in low-energy mode and Sabara going for broke, the first third of the film is a chore.
Yet World’s Greatest Dad takes a turn after a tragic (and blackly comic) accident leaves Kyle’s reputation in his father’s hands. Lance concocts an elaborate charade that wins him sympathy, respect and – most deliciously – acclaim as an author. But can he live with the false narrative he’s constructed?
The best scene in the movie involves Lance wrestling with just that question. Appearing on an Oprah-like talk show to talk about Kyle, Lance lies through his teeth and describes him as a “sweet boy.” He then instinctively lets out a confessional giggle, which he tries to quickly mask as a cry. It’s a bizarre little bit of layered acting that left me in a confused state of giggling myself.
So did much of the movie. Although writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait doesn’t have the smoothest time envisioning his warped scenario – there is a lot of dead air and a handful of flat scenes – World’s Greatest Dad is a bitterly dark comedy whose aim is uncomfortably true. And just when you think the movie has gone too far, Goldthwait pulls off a genuinely cathartic confessional sequence in which Williams performs a high dive wearing nothing but his socks. It’s a gesture that would make Herman Blume proud.