World’s Greatest Dad Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait

[Magnolia Pictures; 2009]

Why is Bill Murray the only comedian of his generation with indie cred? It's not that he hasn't whored himself out to Hollywood -- he was the voice of Garfield, for Christ's sake -- but the drollness of his sadface in Lost In Translation, Broken Flowers, and all those Wes Anderson movies have helped him achieve a hip cachet that equally sardonic peers like Steve Martin and Robin Williams could never hope for. With Williams spending nights at the museum, Mork's image won't be changing anytime soon. But his performance in World's Greatest Dad, written and directed by stand-up screecher-turned-Sundance-enthusiast Bobcat Goldthwait, suggests the Oscar winner may be able to dig even deeper than Murray (who at 58 has yet to play an active father).

Williams stars as Lance Clayton, a teacher determined to make the best out of several shitty situations. His younger girlfriend won't acknowledge him in public; his poetry class is on the chopping block; his writing remains unpublished; and his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) would probably rape the elderly if he wasn't chicken. For a good while, the film is a genuine triumph. Goldthwait doesn't shy away from the suburban grotesque -- Sabara's red-faced pervert is marvelously devoid of redeeming qualities -- but he treats his lead's desire to love with a surprising amount of sympathy for a transgressive indie flick, never forcing his hero through gratuitous cruelties like Todd Solondz might.

Goldthwait is a sloppy director, belatedly setting off a clichéd plot where everyone buys a big lie and indulging in unnecessary musical interludes that last for an entire song (warning: the most heinous involves Williams skinny dipping to "Under Pressure"). But the film is a serious improvement on his stilted 2006 sex comedy Sleeping Dogs Lie -- not to mention the cult favorite Shakes The Clown -- and gives Williams a rare role that avoids both soullessness (Death To Smoochy, Insomina) and schmaltz (almost everything else). If they'd gotten Bill Murray to play the principal, kids might check it out.

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