×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Richard Says Goodbye’

Starring Johnny Depp as a professor dying without decorum, Wayne Roberts' dated, awkward tragicomedy is unduly impressed by its own hero.

Director:
Wayne Roberts
With:
Johnny Depp, Rosemarie DeWitt, Odessa Young, Zoey Deutch, Danny Huston, Ron Livingston.

1 hour 30 minutes

It’s not as if there’s ever a particularly good time for rose-tinted character studies of morally dubious men, but even with that caveat in place, “Richard Says Goodbye” hasn’t exactly picked its moment. At a time when unresolved abuse allegations against Johnny Depp have placed his star image in flux, watching him play a college lecturer whose terminal cancer diagnosis sends him into a tailspin of social, sexual and professional misbehavior is an unavoidably discomfiting experience, however much gonzo gusto he brings to the part. Given more favorable circumstances, however, Wayne Roberts’ second feature would still be an unpalatable proposition, with its iffy sexual politics and a comic tone caught awkwardly between nihilistic irony and dewy-eyed sentiment. Saban Films and DirecTV have already secured U.S. rights to the film, which had it world premiere at the Zurich Film Festival; despite some theatrical play, “Richard” will primarily be saying hello to audiences on VOD.

“The plight of verklempt women is not what I need to hear about right now,” snarls middle-aged English literature professor Richard (Depp) to one of his feminist students early on in the film. The line seems almost an in-joke, alluding to Roberts’ 2016 debut “Katie Says Goodbye,” in which female suffering was piled high on Olivia Cooke’s naive protagonist; though its narrative is unrelated, the titling of “Richard Says Goodbye” suggests a scales-leveling companion piece. Richard himself would certainly be pleased enough with the film, in which male crisis is very much the order of the day. Yet the character’s misogyny seems to have bled into the screenplay: Women, be they loveless middle-aged shrews or guileless ingenues, exist here solely to prompt and inspire our downtrodden hero’s cathartic disobedience.

There’s something here of Alan Ball’s acidic script for “American Beauty,” to which Roberts’ film often seems to play as naked homage, right down to the visual framing of certain suburban tableaux: It’s hard not to spot the similarities between the films’ airless showdowns at the family dinner table, or their legs-against-the-motel-headboard displays of extramarital coupling. Sam Mendes’ 1999 Oscar-winner may have lost some of its fashionability, but the trickiness of its tonal balancing act is underlined wherever “Richard” flat-footedly stumbles.

Both films examine their protagonists’ me-first midlife reinvention under the weight of a looming death sentence; the difference here is that Richard, given months to live by a doctor in the bluntly cut opening scene, knows he’s about to die. Initially responding to the news with a series of dazed, monosyllabic expletives, he keeps his fate secret from all but his best friend (Danny Huston), though a surge of nothing-to-lose spirit lends renewed vigor to an ongoing war of words with his icy, unfaithful sculptress wife (Rosemarie DeWitt, battling a particularly thankless part).

She happens to be sleeping with his detested boss Henry (Ron Livingston), giving Richard a sliver of moral high ground that he ironically parlays into a complete abandonment of professional ethics on campus. Feeling at once untouchable and all-too-imminently mortal, he freely insults his students, drinks and smokes dope with the few who bemusedly remain, and even, in one bewilderingly ill-advised, out-of-nowhere scene, accepts oral sex in his office from one young male admirer.

As “seize the day” efforts go, it’s on the queasy end of the spectrum, yet the film consistently places Richard’s toxic rebellion in a heroic light, counterbalancing each beyond-the-pale provocation with a verbal flurry of rogueish but supposedly sage truth-telling: “Stay away from anyone who has even the slightest whiff of intentional conception,” he instructs his students, in the name of living spontaneously and with abandon. As they warm to his wackiness, there’s even an inkling of mutual attraction with Claire (the ever-winning but ill-served Zoey Deutch), the brightest spark in his class, in an arc of the script that feels oddly curtailed, albeit mercifully so — by this point, “Richard Says Goodbye” has romanticized macho male dysfunction quite enough.

Depp’s peculiar performance is at once the film’s most galvanizing and most disruptive element. Notwithstanding flashes of crazed comic bravado in his drawling delivery, he’s far from credibly cast as a suburban academic and long-repressed family man. (Not that the film’s understanding of English literary study, which doesn’t extend past a gung-ho celebration of “Moby Dick,” gives him much to draw on.) If Richard is a schmuck who’s only recently decided to live life on his own weird terms, Depp’s louche, spaced-out mannerisms make it all but impossible to imagine a previous, more rule-bound version.

Nothing else in the film, however, particularly follows his lead: From its rigid, symmetry-inclined compositions to its heavily worked one-liners, this is cautious, stifling filmmaking in thrall to a reckless, retrograde man, who does little in the course of 90 minutes to merit great fascination or pathos. By the time our nominal hero does indeed bid his audience adieu, his time feels up in more ways than one.

Film Review: 'Richard Says Goodbye'

Reviewed at Zurich Film Festival (Gala Premieres), Oct. 1, 2018. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: A Saban Films release of a Global Road Entertainment, Automatik production in association with Leeding Media. Producers: Greg Shapiro, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones. Executive producers: Braden Aftergood, Rian Cahill, Stuart Ford, David U. Lee, David Lipman, Karine Martin, Eric Schultz, Steven Squillante, Jeff Stentz, John Zois. Co-executive producers: Alastair Burlingham, Charlie Dombek.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Wayne Roberts. Camera (color): Tim Orr. Editor: Sabine Emiliani. Music: Bryce Dessner.

With: Johnny Depp, Rosemarie DeWitt, Odessa Young, Zoey Deutch, Danny Huston, Ron Livingston.

More Film

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT More Reviews TV Review: 'This Giant Beast That Is the Global Economy' Berlin Film Review: 'Flesh [...]

  • Kevin Costner Diane Lane

    Kevin Costner, Diane Lane to Reunite in Suspense Thriller 'Let Him Go'

    Focus Features has tapped Kevin Costner and Diane Lane to star as a husband and wife in the suspense thriller “Let Him Go.” The two also collaborated on “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) is set to direct his own screenplay, based on Larry Watson’s novel [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth Hulk Hogan

    Chris Hemsworth to Play Hulk Hogan in Biopic for Netflix

    Netflix is in the early stages of developing a Hulk Hogan biopic with Chris Hemsworth attached to star as the wrestling legend and produce. Netflix has obtained the exclusive life rights and consulting services from Terry Gene Bollea AKA Hulk Hogan. Todd Phillips, whose credits include “War Dogs” and “The Hangover” trilogy, is attached to [...]

  • Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

  • Leave No Trace

    Oscar Analysts Are Sincere -- but Often Totally Wrong

    With Oscars arriving Feb. 24, we can expect multiple “who will win/who should win” columns. There will also be a flurry of post-show analyses about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and why members voted the way they did. Since AMPAS never releases polls or voting tallies, these pundits will never be contradicted [...]

  • Green Book spiderman into the spider

    On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    We continue to live in a divided world, with the current political landscape in the United States a seemingly endless hotbed of tumult and acrimony. Issues of racism, bigotry, diversity and gender equality drive the creative players as well, with Oscar-nominated films parlaying said themes into compelling, thought-provoking cinema. To analyze 2018 in big-screen entertainment, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content