Lance (Williams) is a mild-mannered high school teacher who dreams of becoming a popular and respected writer. In reality, his books keep getting rejected and the under-appreciated poetry class he teaches runs the risk of being cancelled. He also has to contend with his spoilt, obnoxious, porn-obsessed teenage son, Kyle, played by Spy Kids’ Daryl Sabara (all grown up and thoroughly shattering any once lovable memories of him from that popular children’s franchise). Lance’s fortunes change (in a sense), when tragedy strikes, forcing him to weave a series of lies and produce a fabricated teenage confessional diary. This inadvertently bring him more notice and acclaim than he’s ever received in his career of a writer and teacher.
Director Goldthwait (who also wrote the script) shares a similar outlook to that of Todd Solondz in providing the audience with a skewed perspective of family life and relationships. There’s also a slight touch of Alexander Payne too in the first half of the film – evident in both William’s mock earnest voice-over and his put upon character. You half expect to see Matthew Broderick from Election seated next to Lance in a staff room scene early on in the film, lamenting his fellow teacher’s lack of literary success. This is not to suggest that Goldthwait doesn’t possess his own distinctive voice however, and as the film progresses (and particularly during the last hour) his astute observations really come to the forefront.
To reveal the second half in any detail would be to completely ruin the unexpected turn the film takes. Suffice to say, Lance and his son don’t reach any closure and Goldthwait steers the film into even darker territory and brings more of an overtly satirical slant to proceeding. In the hands of a less assured filmmaker, this incongruous detour could have very easily lost an audience who had spent time investing in the story. Luckily, the director manages the tonal change well and takes the story into another intriguing direction.
Throughout his career, Williams has possessed a Jekyll and Hyde-like approach to the roles he’s chosen. Happily, his performance here falls within the more thoughtful, unshowy parts he’s demonstrated he is capable of playing in the past, given the right material. Considering the tone of the film and the opportunity to play it a little bigger, the actor resists and (for the most part) keeps it reined in. Sabara too is fantastic, playing the kind of kid which every parent across the land would dread if their own offspring was to grow up and resemble him. He has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and (thankfully) remains thoroughly unpleasant and repulsive throughout.
It’s worth mentioning that the marketing for World’s Greatest Dad during its limited UK cinema release was so far removed from the actual character of the film, that (especially where the trailer was concerned) it ended up looking like it was some kind of zany, feel-good comedy, reminiscent of William’s family-friendly work.
It’s perhaps understandable from a financial point of view why there was the need to sell and present the film in a more appealing and palatable way, but that approach often ends of doing the reverse and alienating a potential audience. It certainly feels like that was the case here. Hopefully it will find the audience it deserves on the small screen.