There’s a scene in Albert Camus’ “The Plague” where an actor is performing the story of “Orpheus” in the quarantined, plague-infested town of Oran. During the third act, the actor kneels over and dies. That’s when the audience realizes that the actor’s trembling wasn’t just talent. He was really, genuinely sick.
That’s what it’s like to re-watch Robin Williams in Bobcat Goldthwait’s 2009 dark comedy “World’s Greatest Dad.” You can help but wonder if you’re seeing incredible acting or the hidden signs of depression.
Williams stars as melancholy, mousy and subdued poetry teacher Lance Clayton (perhaps an older and sadder reprise of his role as the lively John Keating from Peter Weir’s 1989 cult hit, “Dead Poet Society”). After his teenage son, Kyle (played by “Spy Kids'” Daryl Sabara), dies from a rather unfortunate masturbating accident, Lance covers it up, staging the death to look like a suicide.
Like “Heathers,” the death has unintended effects. Kyle (and Lance’s) fame skyrockets when “Kyle’s suicide note” is published in the school’s paper. Lance also ghostwrites Kyle’s book, “You Don’t Know Me,” and it becomes the greatest posthumous teen novel since “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
While Williams is known for his brilliant quickfire wit and incredible charisma, he also possesses the ability to appear almost invisible and unassuming (like Bryan Cranston in the beginning of “Breaking Bad” and Kevin Spacey in “The Usual Suspect’s”). Sure, his smile is friendly enough, but Williams’ character looks like a sad sack of potatoes and his smile never quite reaches his eyes.
They always say that hindsight is 20/20. “World’s Greatest Dad” would be a lot funnier if Williams death wasn’t (literally) hanging over us. Williams suicide seems like some sick sort of joke. Unlike many of Williams’ other jokes, this one has us crying from sadness.
“World’s Greatest Dad” was written by and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.