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Arts and Entertainment

World's Greatest Dad

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I really enjoyed the first half-hour of Worlds Greatest Dad. The dialogue between the father and son was unflatteringly accurate, as frustrated family members will sometimes speak horribly to each other and this kid (played by Spy Kids alum Daryl Sabara) lives in a constant state of frustration. I had to pause the movie, however, after Robin Williams’ character discovers the body of his teenage son, dead from auto-erotic asphyxiation. My sister, who was watching with me, went from enjoying the film to sobbing during this scene and I needed to put on something happy for a while. Almost a decade ago one of our extended family members lost his 15-year-old stepson that way and this part of the script, too, was unflatteringly accurate. I returned to the movie a few hours later and watched the rest of it alone. Just like with my little cousin, first there is talk that he hung himself, but that doesn’t make sense to anyone who knows him, and eventually the truth behind the tragedy comes out.

In playing Lance, the dad in World’s Greatest Dad, Robin Williams gives one of his most powerful performances. It’s tragic, heartbreaking and yet somehow still comedic. Lance is a writer who has never been published. When he types out a suicide note to cover up the actual cause of his son’s accidental death, it sets into motion a cycle of lying that brings him much of the success and adoration he’s always craved. He eventually ends up on an Oprah-type talk show and almost breaks down laughing at his A Million Little Pieces scandal worthy situation. Just imagine if John Kennedy Toole’s mother had actually written A Confederacy of Dunces. Is it so wrong to want your son remembered for something more than the final tragic moment of his life? Is it wrong to believe that’s really your motivation?

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Photo courtesy of Courtney Quinn

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I recently sat down with Robin Williams and writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait to discuss the movie. Robin’s the funny man who breaks into different voices throughout the interview and Bobcat’s the straight man who finds the humor in every situation and isn’t afraid to comment on it. Even when they’re tackling some serious subject matter, it’s hard to keep a straight face around these two.

Bobcat: I would feel bad if it was a punch line the way the kid died, but it’s not a punch line. It’s just that I needed a way… I’m really interested in the lies that we tell about ourselves.

Robin: The motivation for my character, immediately, when he finds his son dead that way is, “I don’t want him to be remembered like this.”

Bobcat: And it kind of starts him on his lying trajectory in a weird way because when he first starts becoming dirty there are actually viable and sincere reasons to lie.

Robin: The fearlessness of Daryl’s performance is to be that nasty because when we start to deify him and turn him into this amazingly sensitive kid, the audience is going, “No he wasn’t,” and the one kid, his one friend is going, “He never seemed like that. He never was like that.”

Bobcat: The tragedy that hit the generation above me is that they all had a guy they went to high school with who died in Vietnam or something, but anyone below that, it’s a really common story that there was some jerk in their school who passes away and everybody reinvents him. I think it’s a really immature instinct.

Robin: The most difficult thing of all is to think of losing my son. I can’t imagine that. You can’t imagine losing your boy, or your daughter. When Bob asked, “Can you do this?” I said, “Oh, yeah.” It wasn’t hard to think, “What would it be like?” It would be like your world falls apart. Everything falls apart. You’d be devastated. It doesn’t matter how old you are as a parent. I’ve talked to people in their eighties and nineties who’ve lost a child and they have said, “I always thought I’d go before them.”

Bobcat: Well in the movie, the scene at the newsstand where Robin falls apart because he sees porn and it reminds him of his son, I put that in there because I felt like he was getting over the events too soon and I remember when my own mom passed away it was like two weeks later when I really broke down, it wasn’t immediately after.

Robin: You know, when Bob’s brother died and the Reverend gave this amazing eulogy where he was like, “He loved animals,” and Bob…

Bobcat: Yeah, I went up in the church and I go, “I don’t want to be rude, Father, but my brother liked to kill animals.” I said, “There are a lot of deer right now in the woods going, ‘Phew.’”

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Robin: But in that moment the entire room, all the people who knew him were going, “Yeah, man, that’s him!” And in that eulogy people get to remember the guy. The real guy.

Bobcat: There was another moment at the funeral when there was a little person I wasn’t aware of that was a pallbearer. I looked down and I said to my daughter, “It looks like that guy’s riding on the subway.” And then my daughter and I lose it, and that’s the kind of comedy that I’m most comfortable with.

LAist: You’re known for being a pretty outrageous comedian. How does that translate when you’re directing?

Bobcat: A lot of comedians are in this movie, not just Robin, and I knew that me saying, “Hey guys, we have to get serious” would get met with ahhh… “Dude you set The Tonight Show on fire and we’re supposed to wise up around you?”

Robin: And meanwhile you’re wearing a coonskin cap. Thank you, Daniel Boone.

LAist: At the end of the movie, Lance bares his soul and eventually the rest of his body.

Robin: Yeah, that wasn’t my first nude scene. The first time was in The Fisher King where I was nude in Central Park. But it was a cold night, so that’s my excuse. (In World’s Greatest Dad he dives into a swimming pool in the buff.) It was a warm pool.

Bobcat: Trust me, it wasn’t a Dirk Diggler special effect.

Robin: Is that a boom shadow??? Noooo.

Bobcat: The whole afternoon we were filming that scene I was like, “I have no idea why you’re insecure. If I were you I’d be way more confident.”

Robin: Hello, buddy! The idea at the end is that he is kind of shedding everything, and I said, “Maybe he should just go fully nude.”

Bobcat: And I said, “Okay.”

Robin: And it wasn’t done for like, “Oh, this will be a laugh.”

Bobcat: Or for a shock.

Robin: It was cathartic. At this point you’re going full tilt breakdown.

Bobcat: And I also thought that if every single shot in that series was framed in a way in which his garbage was framed out, it would have seemed kind of trite. It would have been saying to the audience, “You’re not grown ups. You can’t see a penis.

LAist: Technically he wasn’t fully nude. Lance leaves his socks on.

Bobcat: Sarah, our costume designer who I’m banging-that’s my girlfriend-she was thinking that by the end of the movie Lance has disappeared completely and we felt like that was the last little bit of him, that’s his humanity, that’s the last little bit of creativity that was left in him. And I also like the idea that when he’s wearing those socks that he might slip and break his neck, so I like to put that out there, too.

LAist: So what do you think happens to Lance after the end of the movie?

Bobcat: I hope that he continues to write for the right reasons.

Robin: I think he’s starting to have a life at this point.

Bobcat: Now I hope he’s going to be around people who like him because they like him.

Robin: The most painful line for me, and it comes at the end, is when he says, “It’s one thing to be alone and another thing to be around people who make you feel alone.”

Bobcat: A really terrifying thing is to say, “Hey man, I can be okay without a relationship.” And it’s great the gifts you get back and the people who are drawn into your life once you can do that. All that, “If I had you in my life, my life would be perfect” stuff is thrown out the window. I was just glad that Dr. Phil was such a big help writing this movie.

Article by Courtney Quinn