We’ve seen a whole variety of bad dads here on Dad Grades. From the axe-weilding Jack Torrance to the criminally inattentive dad from Home Alone, there’s certainly no shortage of substandard fictional matriarchs to rake over the coals. But this one, Harry Wormwood, the crooked, nasty, negligent dad from Matilda, seems to exist in his own category. A dad so cartoonishly antagonistic we’re not fully convinced he qualifies as a dad. Let’s take a look at this slimeball.
Matilda is the story of Matilda, a little girl with a big brain. A responsible set of parents might reign in such intelligence, encouraging them to learn piano and speak foreign languages, Matilda’s parents, Harry and Zinnia, would much rather watch intellectually bankrupt game shows and belittle her.
The film’s premise is grounded in the neglect of its titular character, mostly by her father, Harry Wormwood.
Harry Wormwood is the personification of sleaze. As such, the movie doesn’t exactly give us a lot to work with in the strength department. You rarely find morsels of good in men who scowl at their newborns from the maternity ward hallway.
But if we really want to stretch, there is one way Harry Wormwood is accidentally a good dad. Gifted children learn best when they have carte blanche to do so. Studies have shown that, when left to their own devices, smart kids will blossom.
As a young child, Matilda is left home alone all day, despite her pleas to be enrolled in school. She learned to cook her own breakfast.
She taught herself how to read.
Her independence only seemed to accelerate her understanding of the world around her. She was in fact neglected so hard that her intellectual prowess sails right past piano prodigy and landed on telekinesis.
Obviously we’re not suggesting you ignore your child in the hopes that they cultivate mental superpowers. And even if it were possible, the emotional neglect is far more likely to produce a Carrie than a Matilda.
Harry Wormwood is a rotten man. The narrator (who is, inexplicably, also Danny Devito?) makes this known within the first couple of minutes:
“Harry and Zinnia Wormwood lived in a very nice neighborhood, in a very nice house, but they were not really very nice people.”
Eager to one day hand down the family business to his obnoxious son, Michael, Harry sells used cars, employing such deceitful practices as manually rolling back miles on odometers.
His parenting skills aren’t any less illicit than his salesmanship. He constantly chastises Matilda for being objectively smarter than him, quick to dismiss her a “smart-aleck” in lieu of praise.
At one point, he catches his daughter reading a book. She tells him she’s enjoying Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Where a good dad might seize this opportunity to lovingly cultivate an interest in the printed word, Harry Wormwood just exclaims
and tears the book to shreds, insisting she instead partake in quality time with her family around the television.
Eventually, Harry relents and agrees to enroll Matilda in school. There are many things a good parent will consider when choosing a school for their kid: location, standards and curriculum, lunch menus. Harry on the other hand? Harry uses his daughter’s education as a bargaining chip, enrolling her only after selling a lemon to the school’s monstrous, tyrannic principal, Agatha Trunchbull, seen here shot-putting a kid by her pigtails.
In spite of routine attempts to murder her students, Harry views Ms. Trunchbull as the ruthless disciplinary figure who will once reign in his unruly bookworm of a kid.
Eventually, Harry gets busted. The FBI finally expose his shady dealings at the used car lot, prompting Harry to pack up and move the family to Guam. Matilda doesn’t want to go, as she’s grown fond of her sweet, exceedingly more maternal teacher, Ms. Honey. She suggests Ms. Honey adopt her, having secured adoption papers from the library at a young age, and Harry agrees.
And frankly, this is best thing he ever does as Matilda’s dad: stops being Matilda’s dad.
One of the worst fictional dads we’ve looked into. Just wholly unfit to raise children. It’s quite baffling that the FBI got to him before Child Protective Services could.