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.
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.