It’s kind of interesting to see Johnny Depp in a movie like this. Years ago, the A-lister would take risks in smaller fare, playing oddball characters in simple character studies. However, it has been a long time since Depp has popped up in something of that sort. So, this week’s release of The Professor marks a return to the past for the man. Unfortunately, it’s also an incredibly forgettable work with little to offer. Pleasant enough to watch, it disappears from your memory as soon as the end credits roll. What’s worse, despite giving Depp a prime opportunity to go all out, he plays it oddly low key, opting for minor drunkenness over something more extreme and, frankly, interesting.
The film (formerly known as Richard Says Goodbye) is a dramedy about how a college professor deals with a cancer diagnosis. When Richard (Depp) is told he has a terminal illness, he immediately begins living his life with reckless abandon. Richard kicks out most of his students in his English class, leaving only coeds with open minds like Claire (Zoey Deutch). He responds to his wife Veronica (Rosemarie DeWitt) revealing an affair with his boss Harry (Ron Livingston) by engaging in various indiscretions of his own. Stressing out his best friend Peter (Danny Huston) with his behavior, he really only still gives half a crap about his daughter Olivia (Odessa Young). As he gets sicker, his attitude only gets worse. Wayne Roberts writes and directs, while the supporting cast includes Kaitlyn Bernard, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Devon Terrell, Justine Warrington, and more. Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner composed the score, while cinematography is by Tim Orr.
The Professor wastes its entire female cast, while waiting too long to try to find any meaning in Richard’s situation. A little bit of Depp behaving badly goes a long way. For a while, there’s light amusement in watching him play “Bad Teacher” or something of the sort, but it wears thin, partly due to Depp sleepwalking through that part. He fares better in the third act when the picture goes for emotion, but by then it’s too late. The worst crime here, however, is how poorly the women are treated, especially Deutch. Such a talented young actress should not be left out on an island like she is in this flick.
Johnny Depp is a long way removed from his days being recognized as the best in the business. Honestly, aside from his wonky cameos in the recent Kevin Smith films Tusk and Yoga Hosers, his performances have been lackluster. Here, he’s incredibly inconsistent. For a short while, watching him not give a shit while teaching his class is mildly amusing. However, Roberts’ script never gives us a reason to care about him. When we meet him, he’s being diagnosed, so there’s no time to meet the old version of the man. It’s a huge blunder that robs the movie of much of its potential power.
This weekend, a would be return to form for Depp opens with The Professor. It’s a missed opportunity for him to refocus everyone on his talents. The material given to him falls short of the intended mark, but he’s unable to even come close to dragging it across the finish line on his own. He should continue to look for jobs like this, just better ones. Less of the blockbusters and more of the character studies. Depp is simply out of practice choosing this kind of role. Alas. If you find it on cable one day, you can do worse, but as a new release, it’s simply not up to snuff…
The Professor comes out this Friday!