World's Greatest Dad is a 2009 American black comedy film written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. It stars Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, and Alexie Gilmore. The film was released on July 24 on video on demand providers before its limited theatrical release on August 21, 2009.
Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) is a single father and high-school English teacher who dreams of becoming a famous writer. He narrates that he will quit writing if his next book fails and that he is scared of being alone. He unsuccessfully tries to bond with his 15 year old underachieving, manipulative, hostile, sex-obsessed teenage son Kyle (Sabara). Kyle is a student at the school where Lance teaches an unpopular poetry class. His only friend is Andrew, a fellow student who spends his evenings at the Claytons' house trying to avoid his embarrassing alcoholic mother. He is respectful and starkly different from Kyle. Kyle's consistently poor academic performance and vile behavior gain the attention of the school principal, who advises Lance that Kyle should transfer to a special-needs school. Lance meanwhile is in a non-committal relationship with a younger teacher named Claire, who is spending time with a fellow teacher named Mike who runs a more successful class than Lance. On nights when Claire cancels their dates and he is all alone, Lance bonds with his elderly neighbor.
One night, after Kyle and Lance spend an evening with Claire, Lance discovers in horror that Kyle has accidentally strangled himself in an autoerotic asphyxiation accident in his bedroom, looking at a picture of Claire's underwear that he snuck under the table with his cell phone that night. To avoid embarrassing his son and himself, he stages Kyle’s death as an intentional suicide. He writes a suicide note on Kyle’s computer and hangs his son’s body in the closet. Initially, most of the students and faculty at Lance's school are uninterested in Kyle's death, Kyle having been a very unpopular and unlikeable person. However, a classmate later obtains the suicide note from police records and publishes it in the school newspaper. The note strikes a chord with the students and faculty, and suddenly many students claim to have been friends with Kyle and are touched by how deep and intelligent he shows himself to be in his writings.
Enjoying the attention his writing is finally receiving, Lance decides to write and publish a phony journal that was supposedly written by his son before his death. Kyle becomes something of a post-mortem cult phenomenon at the school, and soon Lance begins to receive the attention and adoration that he had always desired. He begins spending more time with Claire, his class becomes more popular, and students treat him as a friend. Andrew finds Kyle’s suicide note and journals as highly uncharacteristic based on Kyle's personality when he was alive, but Lance brushes him off when Andrew confronts him. The journal soon attracts the attention of book publishers and Lance lands a television appearance on a nationally broadcast talk show. The school principal then decides to rename the school library in Kyle’s honor, despite Kyle's attitude at school during his lifetime and the fact that the principal had at one point suggested that Kyle be transferred. Lance's work, though published under false pretenses, earns him all the fame and appreciation he has dreamed of.
At the library dedication, pressed by a combination of his guilt over exploiting his son’s death, his mounting hatred for the hypocrites who claimed false friendship, and the faculty’s new-found admiration of the “genius” of his dead son, Lance confesses before the school. He declares none of them liked Kyle, but that he loved his son, even though he was unpleasant and unintelligent, and that Lance wrote his suicide note and journal to cover up his son's accidental death. Claire slaps Lance and approaches Mike, the principal and students glare and sneer at him, but Lance feels reborn having realized that being alone is not the worst thing. Lance becomes the new social pariah and is hated by everyone, but Andrew tells him he knew Lance wrote the journal and that he enjoyed it and feels Lance should keep writing. The final scene shows both of them happily watching zombie movies and eating pot brownies with Lance's neighbor.
- Robin Williams as Lance Clayton
- Alexie Gilmore as Claire Reed
- Daryl Sabara as Kyle Clayton
- Evan Martin as Andrew
- Geoff Pierson as Principal Wyatt Anderson
- Henry Simmons as Mike Lane
- Mitzi McCall as Bonnie
- Jermaine Williams as Jason
- Lorraine Nicholson as Heather
- Morgan Murphy as Morgan
- Toby Huss as Bert Green
- Tom Kenny as Jerry Klein (talk show producer)
- Jill Talley as Make-Up Woman
- Bruce Hornsby as “Bruce Hornsby”
- Krist Novoselic as Newspaper Vendor (cameo)
- Bobcat Goldthwait as the limo driver (uncredited)
The film was shot in Seattle, Washington, largely at the former F.A. McDonald School in Wallingford. Seattle resident and former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic has a wordless cameo while consoling Williams' character at a newspaper stand (Goldthwait had previously opened for Nirvana, the cameo may be a reference to Cobain's suicide). Bruce Hornsby appears as himself at the library dedication.
The DVD was released on December 8, 2009 and featured an audio commentary track with the director, deleted scenes, outtakes, and a making of featurette.
World's Greatest Dad received generally positive reviews from critics, holding a "Fresh" rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 115 reviews, with the consensus: "World's Greatest Dad is a risky, deadpan, dark comedy that effectively explores the nature of posthumous cults of celebrity." Metacritic reported that the film had an average score of 69 out of 100, based on 23 reviews.
The film was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, the website hailing it as a "lusciously perverse, and refreshingly original comedy that tackles love, loss, and our curious quest for infamy." It also commented on Robin Williams' performance as outstanding. Sandra L. Frey observed the film's portrayal of teen angst, and said that the film also reminds the audience that adults can offer strong angst of their own. Devin Faraci called the film "brilliant" and "genius." Paul Fischer named it as one of the best films of the year. Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz both gave the film favorable reviews on At The Movies. Mankiewicz saluted Daryl Sabara's performance as exceptionally well done, commented on the film's "remarkably funny script," and overall considered it a "little gem." Tom Rougvieq from the Whitstable Times gave it a 3 out of 4 stars and called it a refreshing comedy of the age, praising its originality and Robin Williams' performance. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave World's Greatest Dad 3 out of 4 stars, but noticed that the material could have been even darker in its satire, and he questioned whether it was the director's intention.