World’s Greatest Dad – 2009

(Or, Abusing the Musical Montage)

Certainly not a classic but I’m a sucker for Robin Williams so when it came out On Demand while it was still in theaters, I figured it would be worth a shot.  It isn’t a total disappointment.  Milquetoast, writer-wannabe father has obnoxious son who everyone hates.  He’s into extreme porn, auto-asphyxiation and being extremely mean to everyone, including (and especially) his father.  After alienating everyone who has ever met him, obnoxious son dies while pleasuring himself and the father makes it look like a suicide and writes an eloquent suicide note that makes everyone in the school fall in love with a memory of the son that isn’t real.  The father writes a fake diary for his dead son and it ends up being the only thing he’s written that anyone wants to publish.  There’s other stuff including a shut-in neighbor, the son’s sweet and needy friend and the teacher who dates Williams while looking for something better in another teacher.  And, of course, it gets to the point where the father is going to have to come clean.

But I’m not here to write about the plot.  I’m here to write about Bobcat Goldthwait’s abuse of the musical montage.

The first one comes seven minutes into the film.  Not exactly a montage, but instead of dialogue we get a song (“Invisible” by Bruce Hornsby, who actually figures into the film) playing over Robin Williams entering school, showing us his relationships with co-workers.   It’s only about a minute long and it really isn’t too bad.  Can’t fault him for this one.

Through dialogue, we find out that Lance (Williams’ character) teaches an unpopular poetry class and that Kyle (the son) is hated because he makes sexual advances (mostly just in insults) to one of the popular girls.  It’s obvious he only has one friend (a kid named Andy) and adults and children alike can’t stand him.

We see Lance and Kyle at home and how they interact so poorly with each other.  Then we see Lance teaching his unpopular poetry class.

22 minutes into the film, we’re treated to “It’s a Good Day” for a mini-montage where we see Lance watching his girlfriend flirt with handsome teacher “Mike”.   After a brief exchange between Lance and his gal, about 30 seconds after the 20 second “Good Day” montage, we get Billy Austin’s (great) version of “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” for about a minute.  (I’m nitpicking, I know.)

And now 26 minutes into the film and we hear “The Creeper” by Jerry Brunskill (“When I get high…”) as we see Robin Williams smoking pot.  Doesn’t last a minute but we’re 26 minutes into the film and we’ve already heard four songs.  Not whole songs, sure, but it still seems a little excessive.

The only decent conversation the father and son have is while the father is high.  Still, that one goes from a good conversation to a fight.  They go to the mall together and we’ve gone about five minutes with no music.

My favorite part of this film is how it’s obvious that Kyle’s friend Andrew and Kyle have a connection that they can’t articulate because of how obnoxious Kyle is.

Honestly, I watched the entire beginning of this movie waiting for the son to die not so the plot would move along but so he would get off my screen.  Daryl Sabara does much too good a job at playing an asshole and I wouldn’t wait for him to die.  Damn that’s twisted.

After a night where there is dinner with his son and his girlfriend,  Lance comes home to find Kyle dead.  We’re also ten minutes into no musical montage.  But we’re leading into probably the only scene I think works beautifully with the musical montage.  Robin Williams is magnificent when he finds his son..  Crying, mourning and then realizing he has to do something to save his son’s reputation.  The sight of Williams on the floor sobbing under his son’s hanging, lifeless body is pure art.  The song Goldthwait uses, “Don’t Be Afraid (You’re Already Dead)”, by Dana Janssen, is both haunting and poignant.  My only issue, truly, with this particular montage is how long it is.  You need it to be long to show the dead son, the grief of the father, the father taking care of his son and then writing the suicide note and then watching them take his son away.  The montage ends with time having passed and Lance going back to work.

As much as I’m no fan of the musical montage, this is probably my favorite scene in the film thanks to the brilliant acting of Robin Williams.

55 minutes in, about 10 minutes after the last one, we get treated to the next montage.  Richard Christopher’s “I Hope I Become a Ghost” mixed with the voice-over of Williams and Sabara reading the suicide note, and showing us how the kids (and the teachers) in the school change their opinion of Kyle once they read the note (published in the school paper).

Feeling sorry for Lance, the kids all start paying attention to him and make his poetry class the most popular class in school because all the kids want to ask him about Kyle.  Even his girlfriend finds him more interesting, especially when he promises to show her pages from Kyle’s diary (which Lance, not Kyle, writes).

An hour and eight minutes in and we get another montage!  This one is of Lance writing more pages to Kyle’s diary because the school therapist thinks releasing Kyle’s journal could help the other kids.

More Bruce Hornsby, this time “Shadow Hand”.

Two minutes or so later and we get another montage when all the kids start reading the journal.  “Genius” by Inara George.

Lance is going to the school for a ceremony where they’ll be dedicating the library to Kyle.  No montage yet.  The diary is getting published and the publishers want “A book of  yours too”.  It’s obvious that Lance is having second thoughts about all of this.  Only amplified when Bruce Hornsby shows up at the dedication and sings “Mandolin Rain”.   I don’t really count this one as a montage because Hornsby singing fits right into the scene.  And there is dialogue while he plays.  When one of the students admits that he almost killed himself until he read the journal, it becomes more obvious that Lance is uncomfortable with all of it.

After a speech filled with praise for Kyle by the principal who wanted to kick him out of school when he was alive, Lance takes the podium and immediately fesses up, admitting that he loved but didn’t like Kyle and calling him a “douchebag” before announcing that he didn’t kill himself (revealing how he died) and that he wrote both the suicide note and journal.

Ten minutes left in the film and we get “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie while Lance leaves all the hypocrites, strips naked and jumps into the high school swimming pool.  Okay, have to admit, I like this montage too.  Lance is finally free of his guilt and his fear of being alone (because being with people who make you feel along is worse).

I won’t lie.  I could have gone my entire life without seeing Robin Williams’ penis but, really, it’s a small price to pay for what I consider to be a satisfying conclusion.  (I cried when he finally dives into the pool.)

The use of “Under Pressure” was inspired.  I’ll give Bobcat that one.  The soundtrack to this film (while overused in the film) is fabulous.

In the end, when no one else wants anything to do with him, Andrew, Kyle’s friend, and his shut-in neighbor are two people he obviously wants to be around and who want to be around him.  They’re an odd trio to be sure but they complete each other and it’s a happy ending (of sorts).

If I count “Mandolin Rain”, there are 10 musical montages in this film (not counting opening and closing credits).  Ten.  This is, in a word, overkill.  This movie was good but it could have been great if the director (and writer, who also happens to be Bobcat) didn’t try to be so artsy with the montages.

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