Friday, September 5, 2014

The Films of Bobcat Goldthwait

Spoilers for Bobcat Goldthwait's films within

Over the last year or two, I've become more interested in a genre that I used to steer clear of: the black comedy. Black, or dark, comedy films are films that take on depressing or serious topics with a sense of humor. These films deal in taboos, often challenging audience expectations about what's acceptable to make jokes about and what can be shown on screen. One of the new masters of black comedy, and a filmmaker I really admire, is Bobcat Goldthwait.

Bobcat rose to prominence in the 1980's for his unhinged, energetic stand-up act. His trademark vocalizations eventually led him to a supporting part in the Police Academy series. He is often remembered by those not in the indie film world as being the crazy late-80's comedian that wasn't Sam Kennison, his more famous rival. However, he would soon find a second life in his career as a writer-director, starting with his debut feature, 1992's Shakes the Clown.

Goldthwait as Shakes 

Shakes the Clown tells the story of the seedy underbelly of the professional clowning business, through the eyes of Shakes (played by Goldthwait himself), an alcoholic, depressed children's entertainer. The film flopped upon release, but found a second life as a cult classic due to it's dark humor and a small supporting turn by Goldthwait's friend and muse, Robin Williams.
Robin Williams, credited under the name Marty Fromage, as Mime Jerry

Goldthwait returned to dark territory with his third film, 2006's Sleeping Dogs Lie. Essentially a comedy about communication and relationships with a dark twist, the film hinges on the main character's confession to her fiance that she performed oral sex on a dog in college. The film explores relatable issues within relationships while maintaining a macabre sense of humor and fearlessness in the face of an extremely taboo subject, beastiality.

In my opinion, Bobcat Goldthwait's directorial masterpiece, and the culmination of his long-term collaboration with Robin Williams, is 2009's World's Greatest Dad. Featuring my favorite performance by Williams, the film concerns a struggling English teacher whose life changes when his unloveable son, played by Darryl Sabara of Spy Kids fame, accidentally kills himself while masturbating. This film is fearless in the face of a topics such as autoerotic asphyxiation and the societal glorification of those who commit suicide. The film has recently taken on a sad connotation with the death of Robin Williams; however, if one can handle it, I think that now is as good of a time as ever to discover the film. William's performance as Lance is a master class in the handling of controversial comedic material. Goldthwait and Williams were a comedy team that could approach topics that no other filmmaker-actor would touch with a sense of humor not found anywhere else.

All of Goldthwait's films, including his most recent effort, 2011's God Bless America (which concerns a murderous middle-aged man and a teenaged girl killing those they find vile in American society), tackle head-on controversial subject matter and mine these topics for every bit of comedy they can yield. Although none of his films are perfect, I admire Bobcat Goldthwait for his incredibly dark comedic sensibilities and refusal to back down in the face of controversial, tricky topics.

No comments: