This is a black, black comedy written by Bobcat Goldthwaite and starring Robin Williams as a frustrated,
lonely would-be writer who has never sold a word of his prolific output,
and who is muddling through life as an unpopular high school English
teacher, a single father with a son who hates him. The son is, in a
word, a loser. He's dumb. He's negative. He's sociopathic. He's
unsanitary. He's obsessed with the most disgusting forms of pornography.
He is the least popular kid in school.
The key plot twist is that the son kills himself in masturbatory
auto-asphyxiation, ala David Carradine.
"Wait," you're thinking, "this is a comedy?"
Yup. That first half-hour was only the set-up for a comedy which
ridicules the way we glorify the dead, no matter how inept or unlikable
they may have been. How many no-talents have had their tarnished
reputations suddenly purified by an untimely death? Consider John Ritter - one day a nearly unemployable living
comic of legendary incompetence whose career highlight reel consisted of a
really bad sitcom. The next day - a beloved comedy icon taken from us
before his time. That sort of disingenuous post-mortem
rehabilitation is really what this movie is about.
The comic hook is that Dad manages to find a silver lining in the death of
his son. Instead of calling 911 when he finds the body, he writes a
suicide note and poses his son's body to appear as if the lad had hung himself
in despair. The son therefore becomes a hero to the goth kids and the emos
back at school. The kid's cult of personality grows, and soon every kid in
school pretends to have been the dead boy's best friend. Carried away by
the success of the suicide note, the dad continues developing the
fictional pseudo-personality of his son by "discovering" some notebooks
which reveal that the boy's loser persona was just a facade he used to
hide his brilliance and sensitivity. The son eventually becomes enshrined as a
full-fledged folk hero across the entire country, because the notebooks
get discovered by the media. Suddenly dad is being pursued by top book
publishers, is appearing on daytime TV talk shows, is being romanced
passionately by a smokin' hot young teacher, and is about to achieve all
of his dreams. How will it all turn out? I won't tell you that, because it's a good
movie with a good ending.
It's not a perfect movie, especially in the annoyingly long set-up
before the son's death, but I found the script to be quite deft because it
manages to milk black comedy out of realistic situations and motivations
rather than having to rely on surreal scenarios. That's probably the most
difficult thing for the author of a black comedy to achieve, and Bob
Goldthwaite negotiated it so effortlessly that the whole situation, absurd
though it may sound on paper, actually seems completely credible on
screen. We think, "Yeah, in certain circumstances this could actually
happen!" The Robin Williams character had not originally intended to use
his son's death to promote himself or his own writing. The script makes it
clear that he is a decent man who simply hoped to give his troubled son a
measure of dignity in death. The son's beatification was a flood that
happened on its own, and the father simply allowed himself to be swept
along in its path. It was only when he was urged to seek out his son's
other writing that he "found" the missing notebooks. Even then, he was not
seeking national attention with his fabrications. The actions of other
people caused the simple, local situation to snowball into an Oprah-sized
avalanche of publicity, while the father was guilty only of failing to
dissuade people of their mistaken notions.
At least up to a point.