[Spoilers for World's Greatest Dad follow]
Bobcat Goldthwait's new black comedy, World's Greatest Dad, is about a good-hearted hard-working man named Lance (Robin Williams) who is the father to a despicable teenage boy named Kyle (Daryl Sabara). Mean-spirited, angry and sexually deviant, Kyle dies one night, accidentally, in a mishap involving autoerotic asphyxiation. His father finds his body, and, in order to avoid the shame that will attach to his son's name, as well as he own, Lance restructures the scene of his son's death to make it look like a suicide, complete with a suicide note which Lance writes himself and tucks into his son's pocket.
Here's how Roger Ebert describes the scene in his review:
Lance comes home to find his son has strangled himself. He has loved the boy despite everything, and now he attempts to rewrite the story of his death. He manufactures misleading evidence for the police to find...
To me, this very clearly implies, to anyone reading the review without having seen the film, that Kyle's death was a suicide. Nothing is said by Ebert about the death being accidental. In the film, Lance comes home and goes to Kyle's room, where he sees his son, dead, in front of his computer, with a belt around his neck, the belt pulled taught and attached behind him. Earlier, the cause of death is set up very clearly by Goldthwait in a scene where Lance walks in on his son performing the same act, with more success, and Lance warns him that what he's doing is dangerous. But while Ebert does mention Kyle's chronic masturbation, he says nothing about the asphyxiation part, and the possibility that Ebert does believe that Kyle's death was a suicide is hard to ignore. Except, how to explain how Ebert interpreted the scene (beautifully acted by Williams, by the way) that follows Lance's discovery of his son's body, which shows Lance, among other things, hanging his son's corpse by the neck in his closet?All of this occurs maybe a little less than halfway through the film. As the story continues, Lance, a failed writer who teaches poetry at his son's high school, forges a journal that he claims was written by his son. Before this happens, he's told by the school principal that someone on the school paper hacked into the police department's report on Kyle's death, and discovered the suicide note that Lance wrote. No one else knows this, and the note is taken to be Kyle's own words. The school body becomes moved, as one, by Kyle's pain. In writing the phony journal, Lance intends not only to work out his own complex feelings about a son who was plainly unlikable, but to capitalize on the sympathy of everyone in the school.
He gives a hard copy manuscript of the journal to the school's grief counselor, who reads it, loves it, and, with Lance's approval, prints up hundreds of professionally bound copies to hand out to everyone in the high school. And again, here's how Ebert describes this development:
This diary he posts on the Internet, it goes viral at the high school, and the student body is overtaken with remorse about the way Kyle was treated. Soon he becomes the deity of a death cult, led no doubt by Twilight fans, and students start wearing his photo. Lance is now seen as a heroic father.
Disregarding the bizarre reference to Twilight, where in the world is Ebert getting the idea that the diary was posted on the internet? It would be easier to believe that he confused the diary with the suicide note, which was found on-line (but Lance did not post it virally, it was found by hackers, and in fact Lance had no intention of expanding on the lie he began by making Kyle's death look like a suicide until the note was discovered by the public) if the plot of the whole second half of the film didn't depend on the fact that the diary was actually, physically, in book form, published.
The two major plot elements of World's Greatest Dad are the way that Kyle actually died, as distinct from the way Lance claims he died, and the phony journal which is published as a book -- the kind of book you find not on-line, but the kind with pages that you have to turn. And in his review, Ebert gets the details of both plot elements precisely wrong. How is it possible to believe what Ebert seems to believe happened in the film, and still understand anything else in the film? Did he watch the whole movie? Was he preoccupied while watching it? I've seen film critics get details wrong before, little details and big details, but in this case Ebert essentially gets the whole film wrong, at least the plot of it. What's going on here?
And about that strange jab at Twilight he made. I haven't seen that film, nor do I intend to, but Ebert says that the death cult is led "no doubt by Twilight fans". "No doubt"? Shouldn't he know? In any case, the death cult is led by everybody at once, and, this film being part satire, each stereotyped high school clique is represented. There is a Goth girl -- the Twilight fan, presumably -- but there is also a jock, a bully, various kinds of geeks and nerds, and so on. And a principal and several teachers. No one leads this cult, which Ebert would know if, well...I don't know what.