Recently, I saw — and loved — the horror movie Willow Creek, written and directed by, of all people, goofy 80s comedian Bobcat Goldthwait. I’ve always been a Bobcat fan, but it honestly had never once occurred to me that he might be such a brilliant, not to mention deeply thoughtful, filmmaker. Seeing that film really surprised and intrigued me, and I’ve been working my way back through his (short) writer/director catalog ever since.
This film, made in 2009 and also written and directed by Bobkitty, was, to be honest, a bit difficult to watch so soon after the loss of its star, the great Robin Williams. It’s a film about death, you see. A film about suicide, even (sort of). Even harder, it’s a film about feeling negligible, a particularly poignant sensation for me, as well as the crazy-making impact of being a negligible person suddenly found necessary (knowing all along that it is a find both illegitimate and temporary). Push your way through those emotional challenges, though, and you will be rewarded with a truly poignant dark comedy pumped up with so much effusive, legitimate heart it’s practically beating while it rolls.
Williams plays Lance, a high school English teacher, failed writer, and single father to a single teenage son, Kyle. Kyle is essentially an outrageous asshole, and not just because he’s 17. You’ll try — you’ll try to write it off as a boy simply being 17 — but Kyle will not let you. He’s selfish, he’s judgmental, he’s snide, and frankly, he’s downright mean. Even worse, especially for his father, he’s also not all that smart.
Lance, on the other hand, is one of those people who feels things a little too much, painfully skulking away in a shy, dark corner way over on the opposite side of the empathy spectrum from his son.
When Lance gets home one night to find Kyle dead in his room from auto-erotic asphyxiation gone bad, his first thought is. . . well, his first thought is gut-wrenching grief. But his second thought is to protect his son from what he feels is a shameful, undignified death. The idea of his boy becoming even more of an outcast, a mockery, is so painful a notion he cannot bear it. So, he strings Kyle up from a pull-up bar in the closet (you see, then, why this was hard to watch in light of what happened to Williams) and fakes a poignant suicide note on his computer.
Though devastated by the loss of his son, the instant attention and affection Lance gets in the wake of his loss, from the very people who used to make him feel so terribly, agonizingly invisible for so long, is utterly addictive. And while at first it’s easy enough to ride along, when Kyle’s “suicide note” is leaked to the school paper, things kaboom out of control. Thus ensues a dark, satirical look at the way we humans so, so love revisionist history (as long as it’s revised in our favor, of course), as students and teachers galore begin claiming close, personal connections to the lovely, brilliant, and misunderstood Kyle. Latching onto Kyle suddenly makes them all feel less invisible too, of course, as they seek each other out for memorials, cry-fests, memorabilia swaps, and deep conversations with the poor dead boy’s lovely, brilliant, and misunderstood father. The world’s greatest dad.
Caught in the undertow of his own wave, Lance is astonished by the power his faked note has on the people around him, and can’t resist digging himself ever-deeper, next writing and releasing Kyle’s “journal.” It’s the first time in his life his writing has ever gotten anyone’s attention, and that attention, to this poor ol’ underachieving big-heart, is painfully, agonizingly consuming — and, ultimately, painfully, agonizingly consumptive.
This is an incredibly smart, sharp, clever, witty, beautiful film. It’s also a powerful reminder of the broad-achieving talent of Robin Williams, and his ability to play a wide range of moving characters, both inside and outside of comedy. (Extra irony here too, of course, because of the intense outpouring of love and support for Williams after his own death by many whom, I would imagine, actually barely knew and hardly liked his work. In my own defense, I was a completely unapologetic fan of Patch Adams, even, and so my aim here is true.)
Anyway. Dudes. Highly recommended, and DO NOT MISS.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Cast: Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, Morgan Murphy, Naomi Glick, Henry Simmons.