Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dark humor goes back to high school

A rare moment of happiness in World's Greatest Dad.

Aside from the face of a forlorn beagle, few living creatures are capable of looking more crestfallen than Robin Williams. When in full bloom, Williams' sadness has a near accusatory quality, as if he expects someone to break through the screen and resuscitate his collapsed spirit.

Working in full hangdog mode, Williams manages to hold his wildness in check in World's Greatest Dad, the latest darkly hued comedy from Bobcat Goldthwait (Shakes the Clown and Sleeping Dogs Lie.) Goldthwait, perhaps the most annoying comedian who ever lived, is far more palatable when working behind the camera than when we're actually able to see him. (Goldthwait's brief appearance in Greatest Dad does nothing to hinder the movie's comic flow.)

Greatest Dad should satisfy those who like their humor with a sick twist. Count me in that group -- at least when the humor's working.

Much of the humor hits home in this story about a father (Williams) who attempts to deal with the world's most obnoxious teen-ager, a son (Daryl Sabara) who seems to be earning a letter for anti-social behavior. It's virtually impossible not to despise Sabara's Kyle, the kind of obnoxious kid who makes you hope the school bully picks on him.

Just when you think you can't take one more minute of Kyle, Goldthwait pulls a fast one and turns the movie into a commentary on the way people create mythology. I know. It's hard to believe, but it's true: Goldthwait has made a movie about the ways in which legends are born, and how it's possible to attract great attention by ignoring the truth.

Lots of comedy is based on bombarding the main character with one disaster after another. In this case, Williams' Lance Clayton receives more than his share of lumps. He's a high school teacher whose poetry class is about as popular among students as an advanced case of acne. Lance's girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore) may be on the verge of two-timing him with another English teacher (Henry Simmons), a guy whose first submission was published by The New Yorker, a bit of success that serves to pour salt on Lance's literary wounds. Lance has written poetry and novels, but has failed to attract an iota of interest.

I thought Goldhwait copped out a bit at the movie's end, but I supposed I'd already had enough dark humor to fill my quota for the year. An end-of-picture joke involving singer Bruce Hornsby -- big during the '80s -- put a little sting back into the proceedings, which are best when they're steeped in Goldhwait's envelope-pushing humor, which he liberally pours over anything that moves.

No comments: