Some Thoughts (and a Warning) About World’s Greatest Dad

by | Dec 9th, 2009 | 6:45PM | Filed under: DVD Reviews, In My Humble Opinion

Worldsgreatestdad This is not a full review of World's Greatest Dad–for that please check out James' excellent review from August. Instead, this is a friendly heads-up about a mostly terrific movie that may not be what you think it is.

One of the things you quickly learn when you write criticism is that everyone's tastes are different, and nowhere is that truer than when it comes to humor and a tolerance for things dealing with sexual situations and bad language.

The more extreme a film is, the more often you'll hear me say something like "Well, I liked it, but then I like this sort of thing–if you don't, then you probably won't care for it, or even be upset or offended by it." Now don't get me wrong–I personally think it's good for everyone to occasionally get upset or offended by art. But I also think it's important to be upfront about things, so everyone knows what they're in for. You don't market The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover as a celebration of culinary delights. (Just to pull out a very old example from back when I was still able to be shocked and fascinated by extreme movie making. A more timely example would be, you don't market Antichrist as a heart-warming story of love and loss. Or Precious as a cross between Fame and Good Times, as some of the TV spots did.)

So I'm here to tell you two things: I liked director Bobcat Goldthwait and star Robin Williams' new satire World's Greatest Dad very much indeed. I am, after all, an old-school fan of Shakes the Clown. I agree with James' positive review, although personally the film lost a little steam for me in its third act, as so much modern film satire often does once it's exhausted the biting shock value of its premise. But overall, a fine film, well done by Goldthwait, and one of those tremendous performances by Robin Williams that makes so many of us bemoan his appearances in shameless crap like Old Dogs all the more.

That said, here's the second thing: That DVD cover above and that big "hilarious/wonderful" up top over Williams' lovable mug (so to speak) is going to do exactly what the studio marketers hoped it would do. It's going to get a lot of Robin Williams fans to rent the movie expecting a warm-hearted laugh riot. After all, most film goers know Williams in one of two personae: the wacky, manic jokester; or the kinda sad, thoughtful dramatic figure. World's Greatest Dad is not really either one of those Robin Williams movies.

So many people chose movies to rent based almost solely on whether or not they like the star in other movies. We ran into this in the past with Jennifer Aniston in Management or Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married. (Both films I liked, just for a point of reference taste-wise.) Fans of those actresses pick up a DVD because they usually like their films, only to find what they have rented is something much darker or weirder or more deadpan than they are normally comfortable with.

Wgd World's Greatest Dad is dark. Really dark. Funny, yes. But Observe and Report funny, South Park dark and cruel, Heathers grim. It's not full of gross-out silliness like a Farrelly Brothers' movie, but instead it goes somewhere deeper and more disturbing.

Okay, maybe I'm over-selling it a bit–it's not like Antichrist The Musical or anything like that. But I'm just saying that the central plot point, the lynch pin of the story is something that's either going to have you howling with appalled revulsion/misanthropic glee… or turning the DVD off as fast as you can.

Some folks are not going to find it "hilarious" or "wonderful." Anyone happily coming home from Old Dogs and wanting a second helping of Williams isn't going to be amused by the places World's Greatest Dad goes. Never mind the big friendly picture of Robin Williams on the cover or the hopeful blue sky behind him. This is pure dark social satire, soaked in rich irony.

I know studios want you to see their films. And redbox is also happy when you rent them. But I also feel its important to be honest about what you're getting, and trust me, all of the marketing behind World's Greatest Dad is doing its best to sell you on a fun-loving, silly Robin Williams film. And if you go into this movie expecting that, you're going to be disappointed and perhaps angry. (You can always argue that slightly deceptive advertising can be a good thing if it gets people to see and end up enjoying something they might otherwise avoid, but I think you create more pissed-off viewers than new fans when you lure them in like this.)

On the other hand, if everything I've just said, or James said in his review has you drooling with anticipation for something extremely sharp and tart, something that often leaves you unsure if you should be laughing, even as you do, then by all means I highly recommend World's Greatest Dad. It's a good film–maybe not uproariously funny, but not cold and heartless, either. But it's just not the one being sold on that cover.

13 Responses to “Some Thoughts (and a Warning) About World’s Greatest Dad

  1. Watch movies
    Posted on December 10, 2009 at 1:47 am

    Thank You for sharing reviews. I am quite interested about this movie after reading your reviews.

  2. Kristin
    Posted on December 10, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Sounds awesome…I like Williams in twisted kinds of roles (remember Insomnia?).

  3. Jared
    Posted on December 10, 2009 at 10:04 am

    I don’t think to call this movie “twisted” even scratches the surface. I found it an interesting movie, but I’m not sure why.

  4. Fiirvoen
    Posted on December 10, 2009 at 10:49 am

    That was incredibly vague. Is it at all like Death to Smoochy tone-wise?

  5. David
    Posted on December 10, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Appreciate the up-frontness…..yes, I know Robin plays quite a swath of characters.
    I think it’s best said, “This is not the ‘Old Dogs’ Robin Williams – its the ‘One Hour Photo’ Robin Williams”

  6. debra
    Posted on December 10, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    It was terrible and spending even the one dollar that I did made me feel like I got ripped off. I made sure I tredged out in the snow in -8 degrees to return it.

  7. moviegoer123
    Posted on December 13, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    This film seems very stupid, I haven’t even seen the theatrical trailer, I’m not planning on seeing this cheesy movie. I’m sticking to good comedies like Night at the Museum or Julie & Julia. Robin Williams is a great actor for any films, he has good comedy.
    I know a friend who would probably enjoy this movie but idk if she would. At least it’s on home video for the people who actually enjoy this movie.

  8. Matt Doman
    Posted on December 15, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Wow. Based on the comment, looks like you hit the “mixed-reviews” nail on the head there, Locke. I was already sold on this one after James’s August review, and just wanted to give you a comment “high five” on the mention of “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover.” Just another reaffirmation that the redbloggers are one of the internet’s best kept secrets. You guys deal with the commercialism of Hollywood with an artistic sensibility that show tremendous respect to your (intended) cinephile audience. Thanks again!

  9. wratgas
    Posted on December 19, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    This movie has very dark humor, if this is what you think humor is. Unfortunately we continued watching thinking it had to pick up but never did, I agree with David, don’t spend a dollar on it.

  10. moviegoer123
    Posted on December 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    This film seems like it has a light sense of humor but maybe wratgas is right that is a dark humor comedy.
    I agree with wratgas and David, don’t spend a buck and five cents on the rental.
    Old Dogs, I’ll be seeing sometime with the whole load of films that aren’t even released yet in theatres and that are in theatres!
    At least this one doesn’t seem like The Time Traveler’s Wife but this one seems like a good comedy.
    Thanks for the write-up! :)

  11. Steph
    Posted on January 4, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    I wish so much that I had read this blog before renting this movie!!!! Of course it was my luck that thinking Robin Williams with a movie called World’s Greatest Dad would be a good family movie. NOT, I repeat, NOT the family movie to watch with your 10 year old, full of questions, child!!!! Turned it off about as fast as we turned it on. Yes, a wasted dollar that costed us more than a dollar in questions not ready to answer to a naive mind of a 10 yr old and naive is what it should remain for now. Very angry! It will make me think twice now about any movies I rent from Redbox without proper reviews to clue us in. Hint, Hint!

  12. Jen
    Posted on January 9, 2010 at 11:57 am

    I have to say this movies was absolutely horrible and in the complete wrong category. I dont know what twisted mind would categorize this movie as a COMEDY!!!Are you insane?!?! There was not even 1 romotely funny part of this movie!! This was surverely depressing, obseenly disturbing, disgusting and repulsive. If your looking for any of that this is the movie to watch if your looking for a comedy keep looking this is anything but a comedy!!! very disappointing.

  13. Katy
    Posted on January 10, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    This was a complete shock. What was i expecting? Yes, probably a feel good movie.
    I am still thinking through what I just saw. I am not a stranger to that choking thing where men pleasure themselves and choke at the same time, it’s just I was not expecting this in this movie.
    I feel deceived, almost as if the people who set this up in the Redbox would know they’d dupe people into renting. I think that’s pretty sad. People do need to know about this kind of dark stuff, but hell, let them decide, instead of shocking them into it. Kind of made me feel violated, on my Sunday night trying to relax. Stupid. But since it’s a good movie I am going to finish it, however, I might try to get someone’s ear about this one.