World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) is a poetry teacher who cannot connect with his son on any level. And for good reason. Although he displays no openly nefarious characteristics, his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is devoid of any likable personality. Kyle is a relentless sexist. But in his defense, all he really wants is to be left alone in his pursuits of ogling women and masturbating (the only hobby he displays any interest in). Lance humors Kyle as much as he can, but seems resigned to ride this phase out and hope for a better future. Sabara strikes a masterful balance with his unlikable character playing Kyle for no sympathy. There are no contrived apologies between Kyle and Lance and no barn burning flare-ups that are typical in dysfunctional family movies. Williams reminds us he can be funny without the cavorting, cocaine humor that has inexplicably translated into terrible mainstream movies. Lance is sarcastic, defeated, and most importantly, likable. Williams is truly reborn in this role.

To reveal much more about the story would ruin the experience of seeing it. It is not so much that it is hard to figure out what is going on while you are watching it; I am not trying to imply that there is a twist ending or a rollercoaster of turns. World’s Greatest Dad is an interesting story operating on a crass premise. Bobcat Goldthwait deserves much praise for expounding on his unique brand of comedy. Shakes the Clown has a bit of a cult following for being loud and tasteless containing loads of gross out jokes, shouting, and pratfalls. I enjoy Shakes for what it is and have always considered Goldthwait to be a master of tasteless humor. But he has really expanded his horizons without abandoning his personality.

A few reviews have complained that the movie wraps a bit too neatly. I would concede that point except to say that the real fun for me was not so much how this strange story ends, but how my sympathies for Lance changed frequently as the movie progressed. Lance’s house of cards never seems in any real danger of falling on its own. Since the film refuses to impose a moral judgment by offering consequences for his actions, it’s left up to Lance as to whether or not to do the right thing. Perhaps I was snake charmed, but there are worse things to give into than World’s Greatest Dad.



The Invention of Lying (2009)

Written by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, The Invention of Lying imagines what the world would be like if no one had ever thought to bend the truth even for the sake of social niceties. I am always excited for a Gervais endeavor, but I remember seeing the trailer for Lying several times and not being very excited about it. But Lying is a smarter comedy than it lets on. After a particularly bad day, Mark Bellison (Gervais) has an epiphany at the bank and informs the teller that he has more money in his account than the computer shows. Since the world has never been exposed to the concept of untruths, the teller decides that the computer must be wrong and gives Bellison the money. Bellison runs out to tell his friend that he has told somebody something “that wasn’t” and it becomes clear that anybody will believe anything he says. It isn’t hard to put together that Bellison will attempt to use his new talent to save his job as a screenwriter and get a second date with Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) who on their first date tells him bluntly how his physical defects will not bode well for them getting together again. Anna seems to like him well enough though, and this faint spark of interest encourages his pursuit. Bellison uses his newfound powers on Anna sparingly in light of the fact that a simple lie convinces a total stranger to agree to sleep with him. Bellison can have anything he wants, but decides to keep his gift of fibbing respectable and stays the course to win Anna’s heart rather than trying to trick her into sleeping with him. The movie suffers from its advertising, which makes the film appear to be a series of one-liners at the expense of Gervais’ physique. But Bellison gets into some interesting trouble when he is overheard telling his dying mother that death is not the end, and that when she dies she will meet the man who is in charge of creating the world and everything will be great. News of this revelation spreads quickly and Bellison is left to come to terms with the new hope he has sprung on the world. While it might seem this would be an open door for a thinly veiled attack on religious beliefs, what transpires is a fairly even handed consideration of faith. Lying is supported by a great cast of comedy actors reeling in their performances with very matter of fact line delivery that plays for exponentially enduring laughs rather than the short game imagined by the trailer. Much of what makes the movie work is that Gervais and Robison keep the world that Bellison moves in very small and this element of not seeing much out of his scope of things prevents the inconstancies inherent in this type of story from being too problematic. Lying is a nice bit of well-crafted writing for being able to present some big ideas without crossing itself or proselytizing. According to Lying, there is not much joy in a world without deceit, but it does not presume to convince you that there are any clear answers.