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" A woman’s heart is an ocean of secrets "
— Gloria Stuart, Titanic

MRQE Top Critic

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde offers an excitingly fresh and strong female lead. —Matt Anderson (review...)

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Bobcat Goldthwait’s directorial debut is a black comedy about high school life. And it’s not just the students who live it, the teachers are just as shallow and obsessed. Even the father/son bond can’t withstand the onslaught of hormones and pride.

First Published Work

Robin Williams plays Lance Clayton, an English teacher who is also an aspiring writer. In a narration he says he hasn’t even had an article published, and speaking as an Internet hack, that’s pretty low. His son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) isn’t any more of a winner. Obsessed by the lowest forms of pornography and oblivious to his lack of charms, he is shunned by all of the kids with healthy, normal appetites. He has only one friend, the one nerd too shy to make friends with someone else.

Not too far in to the movie, Kyle dies while masturbating and asphyxiating himself. To hide the embarrassing situation, his father writes a fake suicide note. Someone at the school paper is able to get a copy of the note and publish it. After reading the note, the whole school is moved by the poetic soul of the boy they all disliked. His suicide becomes a cause célèbre, and it earns his father attention, sympathy, and sex. Rather than ‘fessing up, his father milks his dead son’s newfound popularity for all it’s worth.

Good People Doing Bad

The weakest piece of a story like this is that it relies on a specific public reaction (“that boy had a poetic soul”). It’s hard to make the audience understand that the boy’s soul was filthy while making the scripted public believe it was poetic. Goldthwait errs on the side of comedy over believability.

Movies like this, with good people doing bad things they know they shouldn’t, make me squirm. I hate seeing people making moral mistakes when they know better. That doesn’t mean I dislike the movie; it just means it is effective at getting under my skin.

But stories like that are hard to wrap up. On the one hand you can’t root for Lance to benefit from his son’s death; you have to root for justice. On the other hand, the protagonist is played by Williams, who conveys the abused puppy so well that you end up wishing him well. Maybe his immoral triumph at the expense of the mistaken public would be a satisfying middle finger flashed at the world that kicked him down in the first place. Goldthwait waits until the last minute to decide which way to go, then offers up an ending that straddles the middle of the road.

World’s Greatest Dad has flaws, but they’re interesting flaws, and the film lasted longer in my head than I thought it would. In any case, it’s at least a mild success and worth a look for someone who likes a little black in their comedy.

  • anonymous: I would think vice versa, a little comedy in their black February 2, 2011 reply