I’ve yet to meet a movie that could live on its premise alone, though you certainly come close to filling that bill. The idea of a failed-writer father becoming famous after he stages his son accidental death-by-autoerotic-asphyxiation to look like a suicide is one of the more gleefully incendiary plots I have ever heard. Just in that sentence alone there are enough cultural landmines to piss off an entire PTA meeting. You have a courage of purpose that is enviable in this land of timidity and safety.
However, all of that isn’t enough to save you from feeling just a little too lazy, a little too pat, and perhaps a little too predictable towards the end. It feels to me that you were so excited about your premise that you rushed a bit too quickly to the finish line. You never took the time to self-examine and live up to your boundless potential. With a bit more focus on character and story you might have become a dark-comic classic. As it stands, however, you are just a pretty good film with an above average level of gallows humor – pun intended.
Your greatest strength, aside from your story, is in Robin Williams as the father. Playing against his usual manic type, Williams instead inhabits a good man who is struggling to make sense of and cope with the injustice of his life. He is a talented writer – or so says anyone who actually bothers to read his work – teaching at a prestigious prep school, yet is upstaged both socially and professionally by another teacher, who he fears may also be moving in on his girlfriend, a colleague who insists on keeping their relationship a secret.
Then there is his son. Oh his son. It is a testament to the comic tone that you strike that Kyle, perhaps the most odious, abrasive child in the history of cinema, doesn’t feel at all out of place, and somehow never drove me as a viewer crazy enough to want to turn you off. It doesn’t hurt that he is presented more as socially maladjusted than truly evil. This helps to explain why his father stages his death to look like a suicide, and why so many people are fooled when his father’s fake suicide note hints that the boy – truly shallow in life – had unplumbed depths.
You exploit your premise the most radically and satisfyingly in the time just after Kyle’s death. The hypocrisy of the school and the community is riotous and yet wholly believable. As the father’s star rises and the world around him suddenly becomes much more amiably, it is fun to see just how quickly people rush to attach themselves not only to him, but to his dead son. People fabricate histories and shared feelings between themselves and Kyle, using him as a means to better their own lives. Some of these moments are positive, as when a jock decides to come out as gay, while others are just absurd, as when two girls fight over a CD that William’s said his son loved. It’s a fun mix of emotionally affecting touches and madcap surrealism that only becomes more pronounced when the father writes a fake journal for his son, and publishes it as a ‘posthumous memoir.’
Sadly, you lose your way not too long after this happens, when the father becomes even more famous with a television appearance and seems poised at the brink of a great and deserved celebrity, albeit one that was attained in a less-than-honest way. However you seem to lose the will to drive the story any further. For a while his teaching rival seems to be set up as a kind of active villain, scheming to bring him down, but then he randomly becomes nothing more than a jealous, tantrum-throwing comedic foil. The flaws in his girlfriend become more and more pronounced to the point that the repetition defeats its own purpose. In general, the manic energy seems to run out, and rather than drive forcefully towards a conclusion you coast on the preexisting momentum before closing out in a scene that starts off bluntly honest but suddenly shifts into blatant sentimentalism.
There is a subversive energy early on in you that I wish I could recapture. I wish I could make you sustain yourself and bring everything to a close that is a little more true to your earlier nature. I would definitely see you again, and I would encourage any of my friends to look you up as well, but I feel like you had a lot more potential in you for a truly brilliant finale of unqualified irreverence. I have no doubt this is the way you intended to end, but I still feel as though you betrayed your own nature.
With affection, wondering what could have been,
Brian J. Roan