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Sundance: Bobcat Goldthwait's bent comedy, plus rote Easton Ellis

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There’s a certain breed of breathtakingly primitive, low-budget, can you top this? filmmaker — the wizard of ’60s gore Herschell Gordon Lewis was one, John Waters is another — who blows up every rule of taste, good cinema, and common sense, and somehow gets away with it because it’s such a depraved kick to see him make up his own rules. It’s like watching a disturbed child play with toys by destroying them. World’s Greatest Dad, starring Robin Williams as a sensitive high school poetry teacher with a failed writing career and the most awful, angry 15-year-old son in the world, is the third feature written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (after the infamous Shakes the Clown and the 2006 Sundance entry Stay, which was later retitled Sleeping Dogs Lie), and by any conventional standard, it’s a crazy, foul-mouthed, garishly farfetched black comedy. But Goldthwait leaves convention in the same place that he leaves shame: on the cutting-room floor. The movie seems to have been pulled, line by dirty line, right out of the filmmaker’s screaming, giggly id.

Robin Williams has found a niche playing nebbishes who itch with anxiety, and he brings a dollop of sympathy to the role of Lance Clayton, a mild Walter Mitty type who still listens to Bruce Hornsby and stoically endures the torrents of daily abuse doled out by his sullen, hateful, computer-porn-addict son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara). When Kyle accidentally kills himself during his favorite activity — auto-erotic asphyxiation — Lance, trying to cover for him, writes a fake suicide note, and the note, reprinted in the newspaper, is so powerful and moving that it turns the reviled Kyle into a figure of worship at school. Soon, his diaries are being published (also ghost written by his dad), and the more he’s revered, the more the movie turns into a toxic satire of celebrity, hypocrisy, and the power of idiotic suggestion. World’s Greatest Dad has an organic lunacy, to the point that there’s something almost Ed Wood innocent about it. Maybe it’s that the film reflects a fantasy that must surely be Goldthwait’s: that the worse the behavior, the more it will be rewarded.

 

In old Hollywood movies, bad behavior couldn’t be rewarded. It had to

be punished — like all those ’30s Warners Bros. gangsters who got it

in the end. Bret Easton Ellis, the blasé bard of hard-living synth-pop

decadence, employs the same basic morality, except that he’s far

stricter about it: His characters — wealthy, beautiful, drugged, and

empty of soul — suffer while they’re getting their kicks. The Informers,

based on Ellis’ 1994 novel, promised to inject the festival with a

welcome little rush of depravity (just the sort of thing you need after

one too many films about Chiapas corn farmers), but it’s easily the

most slack, ho-hum movie ever made from Ellis’ material.

Here’s the plot, which is set in Los Angeles in 1983: Graham (Jon

Foster), a boringly tall-and-WASPy drug dealer, is in love with a

beautiful thrill-seeker with fake breasts, who is also sleeping with

Graham’s Flock of Seagulls-coiffed bisexual-gigolo friend, who’s

involved with the ex-wife of a famous junkie British rock star, who

likes underage boys and girls (preferably at the same time), and who

zones out on stage in the middle of a concert, though no one in the

audience even notices. Mickey Rourke, very much in pre-comeback mode,

plays some sort of greasy kidnapper, Winona Ryder is a newscaster who

dresses like a librarian, Billy Bob Thornton (looking thin and

especially joyless) is a Hollywood mogul, and Chris Isaak is a

middle-aged sleaze who goes on vacation in Hawaii with his son (Lou

Taylor Pucci), who loathes him. Hiply. Then one of these folks ODs on a

beach. The end.

In Ellis’ books, the characters do all this stuff because they’re empty inside. But in The Informers, at least as Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers) has directed it, that same formula gets flipped: The characters are empty inside because

they do all this stuff. And receive no pleasure from it. There were

vampires, real ones, in Ellis’ novel, but you can see why the movie

didn’t need them. Everyone on screen looks like they’ve already been

sucked dry.

In old Hollywood movies, bad behavior couldn’t be rewarded. It had tobe punished — like all those ’30s Warners Bros. gangsters who got itin the end. Bret Easton Ellis, the blasé bard of hard-living synth-popdecadence, employs the same basic morality, except that he’s farstricter about it: His characters — wealthy, beautiful, drugged, andempty of soul — suffer while they’re getting their kicks. The Informers,based on Ellis’ 1994 novel, promised to inject the festival with awelcome little rush of depravity (just the sort of thing you need afterone too many films about Chiapas corn farmers), but it’s easily themost slack, ho-hum movie ever made from Ellis’ material.

Here’s the plot, which is set in Los Angeles in 1983: Graham (JonFoster), a boringly tall-and-WASPy drug dealer, is in love with abeautiful thrill-seeker with fake breasts, who is also sleeping withGraham’s Flock of Seagulls-coiffed bisexual-gigolo friend, who’sinvolved with the ex-wife of a famous junkie British rock star, wholikes underage boys and girls (preferably at the same time), and whozones out on stage in the middle of a concert, though no one in theaudience even notices. Mickey Rourke, very much in pre-comeback mode,plays some sort of greasy kidnapper, Winona Ryder is a newscaster whodresses like a librarian, Billy Bob Thornton (looking thin andespecially joyless) is a Hollywood mogul, and Chris Isaak is amiddle-aged sleaze who goes on vacation in Hawaii with his son (LouTaylor Pucci), who loathes him. Hiply. Then one of these folks ODs on abeach. The end.

In Ellis’ books, the characters do all this stuff because they’re empty inside. But in The Informers, at least as Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers) has directed it, that same formula gets flipped: The characters are empty inside becausethey do all this stuff. And receive no pleasure from it. There werevampires, real ones, in Ellis’ novel, but you can see why the moviedidn’t need them. Everyone on screen looks like they’ve already beensucked dry.