Cambridge Film Festival Review: World’s Greatest Dad

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The Pitch: You know the little ginger one from Spy Kids? Wouldn’t want to be his dad…

The Review: Many famous actors, including Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford and Ross from Friends, have gone on to carve out careers as directors as well as being well-known actors. If you’re as recognisable an actor as Bobcat Goldthwait, then it’s understandable you may want to spend some time working behind the camera, not least because people’s expectations of you may be a little set in stone. Goldthwait attempted to change some of those with his first feature in fifteen years, the 2006 movie Sleeping Dogs, which was a twisted black comedy, and hasn’t strayed too far from this with his latest effort, but what he does have this time are some big names, not least Robin Williams.

Williams’ Lance Clayton is the father who’s trying to raise a teenage son on his own. So far, so mainstream, but when our first introduction to him is Dad walking in on son while he indulges in a little autoerotic asphyxiation. Shocking for him, and a good determinant as to your tolerance for the material. There are a lot of more traditional concerns on show, though; Lance is secretly dating a fellow teacher, but she may have other men on her mind, and his poetry class is failing at school. He’s also unable to get anything published, and is on the verge of giving up his dream of being a writer. Everything comes back to Lance’s son, and his relentless dysfunctionality threatens to derail what hopes Lance has left of any success in the rest of his life.

Williams has done manically funny and cheekily serious to strong effect in the past, but here gets to be sardonic and world-weary, especially as his relationship with his son evolves. He’s on great form here, and Daryl Sabara erases any memories of his cute Spy Kids days with a full commitment to being completely unlovable and utterly reprehensible. The rest of the cast do good work, although there are few other standouts in the acting department (unless you count Bobcat Goldthwait, whose cameo appearance late on is monumentally distracting, mainly because he is Bobcat Goldthwait). Goldthwait allows the story room to breathe, and doesn’t add too many showy touches, but instead showcases the dark vein of humour to its best.

There is, however, a significant second act twist which the trailer doesn’t spoil, and so I won’t either, but safe to say that twist does take things to some more deliciously dark places. The ending may feel at first as if it lacks the courage of the convictions of the earlier developments, but it is ultimately true to all the characters, and just as satisfying if slightly more twee than the rest of the material has led you to expect. On this form, though, any more Williams / Goldthwait collaborations would be most welcome.

Why see it at the cinema: Plenty of good, solid laughs to share with your fellow cinemagoers, and it’s always good to see a good Robin Williams movie back in the cinema.

The Score: 8/10

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