Having premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival way back in 2016, it has been a long road for Katie Says Goodbye. The movie spent part of 2016 and almost all of 2017 on the festival circuit, before opening internationally last year in certain places. Now, here in 2019, it finally gets a release, coming after writer/director Wayne Roberts’ subsequent film The Professor (interestingly, once titled Richard Says Goodbye) has already come and gone last month. Is this flick any better? Well, no, not really. There’s a really great performance at the center from Olivia Cooke, but it’s surrounded by one of the most miserable experiences you can imagine.
A movie is a character study, one mired in pain and largely unnecessary suffering. Set in an unnamed part of the American Southwest, one somewhat lost in time, Katie (Cooke) is a seventeen year old making her way as best she can. A waitress in a diner run by the kindly Maybelle (Mary Steenburgen), Katie also turns tricks for extra money, due in part to her mother Tracey (Mireille Enos) opting to sleep with the neighbors, as opposed to working. Katie’s clients include the hypocritical preacher Mr. Daniels (Nate Corddry), as well as the paternal trucker Bear (Jim Belushi), the only man who seems to actually like her. As she saves money to move to San Francisco for a new life, she falls for ex con Bruno (Christopher Abbott), a nearly silent mechanic. What she sees in him is beyond everyone, but it brings about jealousy from other boys in her life, leading to even more pain and suffering to come. Roberts writes and directs, with cinematography from Paula Huidobro, as well as a nicely evocative score by Dan Romer. Other members of the cast include Natasha Bassett, Keir Gilchrist, Gene Jones, Chris Lowell, and more.
Katie Says Goodbye is nearly 90 minutes of terrible things happening to the protagonist. Despite strong work from Olivia Cooke, it’s painful to sit through. Whatever affection filmmaker Wayne Roberts supposedly has for Katie, it comes across as a desire to torture here, and by proxy, the audience. Not only is she stopped in nearly every scene for a proposition by one of the townspeople, they’re paying her literally just a couple of bucks each time. Katie suffers through a beating, a rape, theft, endless betrayal, and it just happens, as if she deserves it. These are just a few of a number of examples of how the picture beats down this character with no interest in giving a reason why. Then, there’s the ending, which is as unearned as any you’ll ever see.
Cooke does what she can here to salvage the flick, but it’s a losing effort. She’s quite good in the movie, even as her character is treated atrociously. The aforementioned suffering is what we see, though we also see her endless optimism and drive to make life better for those around her. The prostitution is almost seen as more of a charity than a business decision. She’s saving money for a new future, but also catering to repressed men of religion, lonely truckers, and so on. There’s a compelling film to be made about this character, except Roberts is wholly incapable of that. He just leaves Cooke out on her own to suffer. Admittedly, the supporting work by Jim Belushi and Mary Steenburgen is good as well, but they’re not given nearly enough to do in the movie.
This week, Katie Says Goodbye finally hits theaters after literally years on the shelf. Sadly, this delay has probably been for the best, since outside of Cooke’s performance, there’s almost nothing here to grab on to. The film just does not work, at all. Aside from someone morbidly curious about why this never got released, there’s no reason to seek this one out at all. Cooke delivers work worth seeing, but in a project worth ignoring, which is a bit of a paradox. Luckily, she’s been great in other things sine then, negating the need to subject oneself to this mess.
Katie Says Goodbye is in theaters now…