Monday, September 7, 2009

REVIEW: World's Greatest Dad...

I love independent film.

However, seeing independent films, especially in my neck of the woods (a.k.a. West Michigan) is damn near impossible. It's like trying to find a sane person at a Glenn Beck show or taping. It's THAT hard here.

That said, since I was graced with an XBOX 360, things have changed. They not only have Netflix Watch Instantly (which itself is worth 3 billion dollars), but they also have On Demand films, such as The Girlfriend Experience, The Burning Plain, and now World's Greatest Dad. WGD is a film that I've been meaning to hunt down since it burst out of Sundance, and with my 360, I got the chance to do that. Boy was it worth the wait.

World's Greatest Dad is a story about a man,Lance Clayton, who has learned to settle. He dreamed of being a rich and famous writer, but has only managed to make it as a high school poetry teacher. His only son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is an insufferable jackass who won’t give his father the time of day. He is dating Claire (Alexie Gilmore), the school’s adorable art teacher, but she doesn’t want to get serious.

Then, in the wake of a freak accident, Lance suffers the worst tragedy and in turn, the greatest opportunity of his life. He is suddenly faced with the possibility of all the fame, fortune and popularity he ever dreamed of, if he can only live with the knowledge of how he got there.

First things first, one must understand, this film is dark. It's about as bright as what your local emo kid must see when he's locked himself in his closet with a tape full of The Cure and a video of the Suicide Girls.

The film takes a normal subject, a father who has a detatched son, who also happens to teach at his school, and turns it into one of the most bleak and truly scathing comments on obnoxious celebrity worship, and just how ridiculous teens can be. It's brilliantly cynical, and is similar to works of say Todd Solondz or Alexander Payne, both of whom have had their names close to this film when discussed by the viewers.

However, it's not all dark, especially when you look at the performance of Robin Williams, who is the true star of this piece. He tries so hard to not only be loved by his son, but by his wannabe girlfriend, that when you see the look on his face when he is shot down by both of them, you really can't help but feel for him. There is one scene in particular, when his son commits his last act, that when he discovers what has happened, the film goes silent, which just heightens the emotion shown on his face to an almost melodramatic degree. It's such a strong performance, that surely will, or at least should, be in the running for an Academy Award. There is so much heart in this performance, in a rather heartless fair, that it really makes this one of the most interesting films I've seen all year.

The film is also stunning to look at. Horacio Marquinez paints such a stunning cinematic painting with his realistic, if contrast heavy cinematography, which lets the true painter, Bobcat Goldthwait, paint a lush portrait of a middle aged man leaving childhood behind. This film is a bleak and ballsy, and so is the film making.

Also, the use of music is rather great here. Ranging from Queen to Bruce Hornsby, the films soundtrack fits in perfectly with the film as a whole. It's a subtle mix, but in a film that is chock full of emotion both on and off screen, it really lets the film breathe.

The biggest surprise of this film, at least for me, is just how deep the themes within this film go. More than a film about auto-erotic asphyxiation, the film covers themes ranging from the modern day high school experience, middle age, growing up, and celebrity worship, especially in times of death. We follow Lance, a man who is middle aged, who is faced with this horrible tragedy, and is forced to grow up and move on from his childish ways. Also, we take a look at just how obsessed people get with someone when he or she dies, especially as a teen. None of these students new our leads son, yet once he dies, they act with a really desturbing sense of entitlement. This is the most biting taste of satire I've seen this year, but while it's a fantastic movie, it does have some flaws.

The biggest flaw with this film comes in the performance of Daryl Sabara, who plays our leads son, Kyle. He's such a son-of-a-bitch, that when he dies, the person you feel for is his father. It's an easy performance to recognize, at least through experiences in my life, but it's not one to get emotionally behind. It's also a bit to cartoonish, and while it may work for this satirical film, it didn't really gel for me. The other primary flaw is that the film does lag for a little bit. It is quite funny, but it does lag near the middle, into the final act.

That said, this film is a must see, and don't be shocked if you see this end up on not only mine, but many top 10 lists.


Go see something good!

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