Richard Says Goodbye – The Professor (2018)
Director: Wayne Roberts | 91 minutes | comedy, drama | Actors: Johnny Depp, Rosemarie DeWitt, Odessa Young, Danny Huston, Zoey Deutch, Devon Terrell, Ron Livingston, Linda Emond, Matreya Scarrwener, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Paloma Kwiatkowski, Kaitlyn Bernard, Michael Kopsa
Johnny Depp is an actor with a very changeable film career. While the actor shows a lot of competence in some roles, in other roles he only shows a clear enthusiasm for a generous salary. In the 90s, the actor was primarily known for his collaborations with Tim Burton, but Depp is now best known to the general public for his role as Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. It is therefore remarkable that Depp chose the comedy film “Richard Says Goodbye” for his new role, a film much smaller than his usual projects.
In “Richard Says Goodbye” Depp plays the title role of Richard, an English university professor who is told that he has lung cancer. The disease is already at an advanced stage and with a little luck, Richard will only have half a year to live. As if his impending death is not enough, Richard also learns that his wife Veronica (Rosemarie DeWitt) has an affair with his boss Henry (Ron Livingston). Stripped but also encouraged, Richard chooses to shake things up considerably during his last months: he only offers lessons about life instead of literature, he opposes the established order in all respects and he speaks up unabashedly over everything that bothers him – while at the same time doing himself a favor with as much drink, drugs, and sex as he can get.
A comedy about a serious subject such as cancer is always a very ambitious undertaking, and in the case of “Richard Says Goodbye” this does not work out well. This is largely due to the main character of the film: Richard. Depp’s character as a protagonist automatically evokes compassion because of his condition, but his personality leaves a lot to be desired. Richard is a very unsympathetic character in every respect: he is rude, screaming, grumpy, pretentious and above all very childish. Richard is also not at all funny – abrupt comic moments, in which Richard does or says something that is supposedly humorous, always kill. In addition, no effort is made to offer the viewer a glimpse into his train of thought. Nothing becomes clear about Richard, except that he has a huge ego and that he gets his joy out of the misery of others. A glimpse into his subconscious might explain his inappropriate behavior, but that is not offered here. Richard’s insufferable attitude quickly becomes tiring, with the result that you completely lose all sincere hope in a somewhat good ending for him.
The tone of the film is almost as problematic as Richard himself. Writer and director Wayne Roberts does not seem to know what type of film he wants to deliver. The film is somewhere between a sweet melodrama and a banal comedy, constantly struggling with different genre aspects. “Richard Says Goodbye” can perhaps best be described as a tragicomedy in that respect, since the film is not funny or tragic enough to qualify as one of those terms. The film also often violates a very easy and manipulative way of tearing. It is mainly the unhealthy marriage between Richard and Veronica that should stimulate this emotion. In the third act of the film, director Roberts is only too happy to convince the viewer that there is a strong emotional bond between the two characters, but this has no form of construction at all and comes out of the void. Instead of spending time with the unfaithful couple, Roberts is much more concerned with the childish escapades of his main character, with the result that there is no kind of genuine emotion for Richard and Veronica.
The film is largely solid at a technical level. The cinematography in the film is fairly simple, but nevertheless works effectively. There are a few very nice shots and there is nothing wrong with the assembly either. The real problems of “Richard Says Goodbye” really lie in the main character and in the tone, where Wayne Roberts has dropped an unbelievably big sting. A film with similar themes is “American Beauty” by Sam Mendes, a film from which Roberts has clearly drawn inspiration. Where “Richard Says Goodbye” fails in his execution, “American Beauty” excels in almost every respect. “American Beauty” is in many respects the film that “Richard Says Goodbye” could have been, but in its current state the film simply falls short.