Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bob Goldthwait's WORLD GREATEST DAD: Review and Q&A with a transgressive guy

Boy, does Bobcat Goldthwait love to smack us around. First, he made us sit through a hugely unappealing movie called Shakes the Clown, which demon-
strated few film-
making skills but a very loud soundtrack and little real humor. Then, seven years later, after a lot of TV work and stand-
up along the way, he gifted us with a movie about a pretty young woman who, in a moment of something
or other, performs a sexual act on her dog and lives to regret it. The surprise of this film, Sleeping Dogs Lie, lay in how absolutely charming, delightful and real it was. The movie made you think, feel and wonder about some very odd things indeed. Placing you squarely in the shoes of its protagonist, it forced you to confront an interesting, if unusual, situation. Clearly, something had happened between Shakes and Dogs, and now -- three years later -- comes further proof of Bobcat growth.

This time, in his new movie WORLD'S GREATEST DAD, Mr. Goldthwait, puts us in the shoes of his male protagonist, a school-teacher and would-be writer named Lance, played by a chipper, funny, and sometimes quite moving Robin Williams. What happens to Lance and his horrid son Kyle (the performance by Spy Kids' little brother Daryl Sabara, shown below, should shock your socks off) is, once again, transgressive as hell. Just as with Dogs, Bobcat's Dad forces us to determine the importance of truth, and in the process comes very close to trashing some of our most treasured possessions, such as the parent-child bond. To call this movie bracing is an understatement.

The less you know about Dad going in, the greater will be your surprise and enjoyment, so I dearly hope other critics will refrain from spilling the beans here, even though the temptation will be great, as there are so many delicious/nasty lines and situations along the way. (One such howler combines, to drop-dead funny effect, a piece of the female anatomy with a negative use of a self-reflective verb.) Between them, Goldthwait and the young Mr. Sabara manage to create a bizarre variation on the Bad Seed character for modern times, but one who seems funny, nasty and all too real.

Perceptions are important to Mr. Goldthwait; he enjoys playing with them in order to surprise us. Because his movies deals with the hypocrisy of the human animal, he is able to jog our perceptions first one way, then another, until we're not always sure what's what. His film manages to be both jaunty and nasty, yet as it heads down the home stretch, when he has the opportunity to go full-throttle for the jugular, Bobcat pulls back. He offers us something shockingly feel-good, but with a rather large price tag attached. This, too, seems somehow appropriate. Goldthwait is a moralist -- but not in the superficial sense. Language, sex, dress (or lack of it) -- these don't count a farthing against what really matters: one's actions.

The Bobcat is growing as a filmmaker, too. Oh, he won't soon give our great stylists any competition, but each film shows noticeable strides in terms of camerawork, pacing and invention. The writer/
director also draws some very good performances from his well-
chosen cast: In addition to the fine work of Williams and Sabara, Alexie Gilmore (shown at left, above, with Williams) does wonders with the girlfriend role, Henry Simmons (shown in the second photo below) is cooly funny as an only somewhat-clueless hunk, and, in his film debut, Evan Martin (shown three photos below) is terrific as the quietly observant, sensible and sweet best friend.

World's Greatest Dad, which is already playing On-Demand (consult your local TV reception provider for specifics) makes its theatrical nationwide rollout via Magnolia Pictures on Friday, August 21, in New York City at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema. You can find all the playdates, cities and theaters here.


The usual group of bloggers sits around the large conference table at Magnolia Pictures's NYC office, nibbling on lunch, kibitzing and waiting for our interviewee, who, a bit late, enters with a smile and salutations. (The Roundtable's questions appear in bold, Mr. Goldthwait's answers in standard type.)

Bob Goldthwait: I’m sorry about being tardy.
(He introduces himself to each of us, and then noticesthe T-shirt worn by one young woman in the group that advertises the about to open, District 9)
Did you see that movie? How was it?
(The group, other than I, tells Goldthwait that it's a very good film)
I'm excited about it because of Peter Jackson.

Roundtable: That would be the newest thing for you to tackle: funny aliens. You’ve tackled perverse sex and now suicide in a funny way. What’s the next subject you’ll choose to debunk in some perverse way?

I’ve been trying to do a musical. (Laughter from all.) No, really.

Where did you get this idea for the World’s Greatest Dad? It’s almost like child abuse. I mean, wanted to kick that kid from here to….

We all have children here, you know, so we're prepared….

Well, I think it came partially from when I was raising my daughter. She had one friend who was a girl, who -- if you had met her, you would say, This girl has the worst parents. I mean, she was almost an animal. And then I met her parents. They were really sweet. But they were pulling their hair out about her, and clearly had tried everything. So the idea of nurture vs. nature came up, and I thought maybe there are just some "bad seeds."

Is that what the kid in your film was? Maybe not a bad seed. Just going through a phase?

I don’t know. When I think of him in my head, it was like, as soon as the computer came into his room, he stopped growing. That was it. Now, he could kill things and watch porn. And he didn't care much about anything else. I truly believe that there are some people, no matter how much love you give them, they are incapable of comprehending how their actions effect other people.

You’ve mentioned that you’d finally figured out that you wanted to be a director and get your own ideas out there.

It took me a long time to figure that out, yeah, but this is where I’m happiest, behind the scenes. So I jokingly said that my retirement from acting came at the same time that people weren't hiring me.

That’s what Michael Caine told us. An actor’s retirement is always enforced.

Yeah? Yeah. It wasn’t that much of a decision. When you turn your back on being-famous-just-for-being-famous, people don’t understand that. Certainly, in this day and age, I still got offered a lot of reality shows, and then games shows. But I am much happier behind the scenes.

How did you cast this film?

Well, you know Robin Williams refers to me as Bob Wood, and that this film features the Bob Wood players. A lot of the people in my movies are people I’ve worked with before, so we know each other. Robin and I have been friends since my early 20s, and Tom Kenny, who does the voice of Sponge Bob -- I’ve know Tom since I was six. A lot of the roles went to friends. The people who were “cast” were Alexie Gilmore, and it was weird, she had a cold at her audition, but when I saw her, I just thought, Oh, yeah that’s the person! I really have to give it to the folks who financed the movie because they first said, Oh, we've got Robin Williams, so we can use a "known" actress. But then they said, OK, that’s cool to use Alexie. And with Daryl Sabara, I had never seen a Spy Kids movie because, well, it would just be weird if I were watching Spy Kids. ..

Why? Spy Kids was a cute movie!

Yeah? Well, Darryl came in, and he was supposed to audition for the role of Andrew, the sweet boy in the movie, and I said, You’re here for Andrew? And he just lied and said, No, I’m here for Kyle. And he was really shitty, like he had a very rotten attitude, and he did the audition and I said, Wow-- that kid is good but he’s really an asshole. So I watched the tape, trying to find moments when he broke character, but there weren't any. So then I just called up people, and they all said, Oh, Darryl, he’s the sweetest guy in the world! And then I talked to him – he wondered why I called him, of course – and I tried to get him to laugh. And he was just a good guy. Well, I hope he’s a good guy, because now he's hanging out with my daughter. But he's a really smart guy, so he knew he was going up against people’s perception of him.

I’m happy with this movie because I think, not only do people have a perception of me, they have a perception of everybody: Bruce Hornsby, Robin. One thing I like about the movie is that people don’t realize while they’re watching it, that they’re listening to Bruce Hornsby, another guy from the 80s. We know him for one thing but he does all this other stuff like Spike Lee movies, and he composes jazz.

In the early days when you worked with Robin as a comedy duo, you were Jack Cheese and he was …

We really weren’t a team. You know, Robin and I would go out and do sets where I was Jack Cheese and he became Marty Fromage. We’d played clubs in San Francisco. It was all due to Robin, of course, but they wouldn’t let it out that it was Robin. They’d call him Marty Fromage, and to give a clue about Mork and Mindy, they’d call him Marty from Mars.

At the end of the movie it looks as though you are going for a flat-out indictment of the hypocrisy of humanity --


--as black as it can be.


And then it shifts into a feel-good mode -- but a feel-good mode that your main character must pay for.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I mean, he’s left with only a couple of dorky friends. Did you wrestle at all with which way to go? Or were you always sure this would be the outcome?

Oh, yes. The end of the movie was where I started. I wanted to make a move about an adult male that… well, I think the Robin’s character has to earn my respect. Like he’s trying to be famous as a writer for the wrong reasons. I show it in a very joking way, but I don’t think he’s writing for the right reasons. At the end he learns that he should write just to write. This may sound trite but I really do believe this. That’s how I am trying to live my life. Like I just stopped trying to make money and stopped trying to do things I thought people would like. Instead just write what came out of me. This movie and the one before -- Sleeping Dogs Lie -- are pure examples of that. I just sat down and wrote. I didn’t think first, Oh, would this be a good project for somebody? Or will this change people’s perception of me? I just started to write. In this screenplay, I wanted the character to grow up.

Robin’s character has the gal that everybody would like, and the attention that everybody would like. But I know now that, as an adult male, these things only cause more problems, and they don’t fix any holes.

Is there a particular message here? Like in Sleeping Dogs Lie, you have this theme that lying gets you more. I notice a similar theme in both films.

Yes, I think a lot of people hurt other people under the guise of, Oh, I was just telling the truth. So Sleeping Dogs was about unconditional love and telling white lies. I don’t think honesty is always the best policy. Not if you are hurting other people, or if you are lying or are being presented in a dishonest way. And World Greatest Dad is like the flip side of this. I actually wanted to write a movie in which a guy telling the truth, well, this would be the hardest thing he could do.

How did the producing company Darko come on board?

They read the script and they just seemed to really like it. There were two other companies in the past who were willing to finance the movie, especially once Robin was attached. But I actually walked away from that. Because they wanted to change the movie. And then they went out and started spreading rumors that I was a flake. They were excited about making a comedy with Robin Williams, but they wanted to change things, and I wasn’t interested in doing that. In the old days I’d have been really destructive, but this time, I just said, No thank you, I don’t want to do that. And they proceeded to tell people in Hollywood that I was crazy. And of course, I am crazy. But, still I held out until I found the right folks who really were on the same page, didn’t want to change things, and were really supportive.

What happened when you proposed the idea of Robin being nude?

That was his idea. I thought I knew everything about him. But…. One day he said to me, I think I should take off my clothes at the end of this movie. I said, Well, let me think about it, and then I said, Well, OK.

I didn’t want to take away from the story, but I also didn’t want to cop out and just have a “cute” movie. Actually, at Sundance, no one even brought up the nudity thing. I hope the timing is right in this scene – you just see him after the fact, and just briefly, nude.

But you know, when Robin showed up to shoot the scene, he’d been “manscaped,” so I said to him, “Well, you just cost me the “Bear” audience.

He used to be so hairy, didn’t he?

Yes, so much so that he told me the poor woman got carpel tunnel when she was shaving him.

If I am lucky enough to keep making movies, I just want to keep making small ones that are very personal. My goal is to make movies for adults. When Hollywood makes an R –rated comedy, it really hopes that tweens and teenagers will go to see it. That’s the goal. And I have no interest in entertaining teenagers. I really think they are the dumbest part of the population. As an adult male, One: I don’t really relate to them, so I have no interest in entertaining them. I remember I saw a review where it said, Boy, Bob Goldthwait really hates kids. I thought: Yeah!

But you have a daughter?!

I don’t hate my daughter, but when she was growing up, I was never concerned with her being my friend. I think this is a big mistake that people make, especially in Los Angeles. They want to be buddies with their kids, and they care so much about their kids’ opinion of them, which is the biggest mistake. With my daughter, the by-product is she is now 22, and she tells me, You’re my best friend. But even my daughter -- and I think I got a pretty good one -- when she was 13, well, everything I did was pretty stupid. She had this sleepover with her friends once, and I said, You guys might enjoy Moulin Rouge, and she just rolled her eyes at me.

Well, were you recommending the original Moulin Rouge or the new one? (Laughter)

The Baz Luhrman version.

Can you say something about your writing process? How long did it take you to write this film? Do you write every day?

What I do is, as I think about the idea, it’s usually the end part, which means that’s the theme -- what I want to say. And I try to keep it all in my head. What I do is to check into a hotel, not a very nice one -- I probably look like a terrorist -- and I don’t come out much until I’m finished. I order food in. I used to smoke, so I’d just be smoking in a room. I do this for two reasons. So I am not distracted. And for the guilt of knowing I am paying for this room. I sort of do it like a term paper.

So then, you write a movie in a couple of weeks?

Yeah, but trust me, I have spent plenty more time writing screenplays in the past. Sometimes for a whole year. But this one took me five days, and the earlier one, Sleeping Dogs, three days. Of course, my detractors would say, Maybe he should have spent another day on it.

But if you know what you want to say, that’s OK.

That’s what it is: boiling it down. I always used to try to be too clever. I really hate it when I am watching a comedy and everybody is talking in punch lines. That doesn’t work for me.

You’re not writing jokes, you are writing a movie, scenes. Is that how you see it?

The least thing on my mind when I am writing is the comedy. Because I know that we’ll get there, so I am not really concerned. The challenge for me is to make believable characters that the audience will root for.

You said Sleeping Dogs Lie took only 3 days to write?

Right. But I had this idea of unconditional love that I wanted to write about. So I come up with this idea – what would be the hardest thing for everybody in the family to get past?

Could you talk a little about your… I don’t know if “need” is the right world, but your desire to be transgressive and yet to bring your audiences into the transgression so that it does not seem so transgressive. Do you know what I mean?

Uh… No. (Laughter) I am not trying to be a jerk. But no.

Like in Sleeping Dogs Lie. It’s an outragoeus sexual thing, And then in this new one, its…

Oh, I get it. It’s like I am saying, Will you still like the character, her -- aka me -- if...


I don’t know why that interest me, but I do know that this is always a theme, and it’s always been one in my stand-up, too. It could be my insecurity. Maybe it’s me being a little, immature boy going, Will you like me if I do… this? OK. But what if I do this? Will you still like me?

I want to finish on this point about process. Do you put all your scenes on index cards?

I write like a short story of it. I try to boil it all down to a 2-3 page story. So if I read it, it holds water. Some folks use major outlines, but I like to do it this way, so that if I gave it to someone they would understand it. I try to give it to people that I trust.

As a writer/director, what do you think about directing yourself?

I have done this. But I don’t like it for two reasons. One, I am really, really serious about moviemaking, and I really want to do my best job, so I don’t want to be distracted. Second, I think I am kind of a bad actor. And it’s jarring. I showed up in this movie only because I was trying to get Guillermo from the Jimmy Kimmel show, but he had to work that day, so I quickly auditioned some other people. It’s funny. During the auditions, I said I would like to see people other than white people always coming in. Like if someone has an accent, that would be OK. And then this gets translated into, “He wants someone with an accent. So all of a sudden people are coming in with cockney accents! So I’m like, no man... Just let people be who they are.

Were you concerned with the fact this kind of sexual act you show that can lead to death, as with David Carradine? Were you concerned with that?
Well, that happened afterward. But no, because the comedy is not about these tragedies or these events. If it were, I would have felt guilty. Before the movie came out, there were people who were upset because they’d heard about the events that happen in the movie.

Is there any particular thing you want your audience come away with from your films?

I am happy if people are asking themselves, Who are we? That makes me really excited. It's when people are outside after the film, talking and arguing in the lobby: I can’t ask for more than that.

What are you working on now?

Currently I am writing a couple of things. I have spoken with Ray Davies of The Kinks. There’s a great album, Schooboys in Disgrace, that I would like to make into a musical. When I told Ray this, he asked me, But who would want to see this?

I told him, Well, all the kids who fuckin’ hated High School Musical! And then he kind of lit up. So that’s one of the things I am working on.

It seems to me that your filmmaking skills are rising from movie to movie. Do you feel the same?

Thank you. I hope so. And yes, that’s my big concern. I am working on that, so you’re saying it means a lot. It’s funny. I try not to do what new directors often do when they start out, they’re always moving the camera around way too much. It’s distracting. But I do hope to make things a little more stylized. Another thing I’m writing is a “spree killer” movie.

It’ll be a comedy?

I’m sure it’ll be a comedy.

(After the roundtable group, TrustMovies approached Goldthwait
to ask a couple of questions on his own :)

How long did it take you to shoot this film?

4-5 weeks.

Will you finally make any money from the film – I mean like enough to live on for a year?

(He looks at me like I’m crazy -- or maybe just naive -- then smiles.) No. But it’s OK. I can do some more stand-up for that.

(All photos above are courtesy of World's Greatest Dad,
except the one that leads off the Roundtable Q&A,
which was taken and supplied by Roundtable participant Brad Balfour.)


GHJ - said...

Very interesting interview Jim. I just watched Sleeping Dogs Lie for the first time the other week and I agree, it's quite moving in an odd way. But I found myself unable to discuss the film like I normally do. Basically, it stumped me. I haven't been able to pinpoint why I liked it, maybe because it's such a strange and surprising experience. I usually get turned off by indie DV films about relationships, i.e. Flannel Pajamas, but this one had me from the first scene, and it's quite a hook. I look forward to World's Greatest Dad.

TrustMovies said...

Well, force yourself, Glenn! I'd love to read your thoughts on Sleeping Dogs Lie, whenever they finally form themselves.

Funny, I really liked Flannel Pajamas, and was just thinking about watching it again (it's on Sundance this coming week, I think). But the two films hardly compare -- except in terms of being about relationships, among other things.

Can't wait to hear your thoughts on another new relationship movie that's coming out this fall via Strand: Peter and Vandy, with Jess Weixler and Jason Ritter. It's quite unusual, as well.