Mark Reviews Movies

The Professor


1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Wayne Roberts

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

MPAA Rating: R (for language, sexual content and some drug use)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 5/17/19 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 16, 2019

The biggest problem with The Professor is one of casting. The movie is about a literature professor who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides to live out his remaining six months or so of life with wild abandon. Writer/director Wayne Roberts wants us to sympathize with the character's plight, as he undergoes an existential crisis about how seemingly fruitless his life has seemed now that it's coming to an end. In casting Johnny Depp as the soon-to-be-deceased Richard, though, our potential for sympathy ends with the fact that the character is dying.

Someone else might have been able to pull off this role with some humor and charm, but that's not Depp's game. The actor erringly latches on to the least appealing aspects of his character: Richard's misery, which had been brewing long before his diagnosis, and his general misanthropy and his apparent desire to make everyone around him feel as bad as he does.

It doesn't help that Roberts sees this material as some ideal of sorts—of losing one's inhibitions, of doing what you want, of embracing that one inevitable and, in the process of all of that, experiencing life to the fullest. Richard is far from ideal as a person or as an example, and the movie's grand ambitions for meaning, along with its lesser ambitions of off-kilter comedy, quickly become as irritating as its central figure.

Richard's big goal is to get a sabbatical from his job, so that he can live out his remaining time away from campus and alone. There's nothing left for him, since his wife Veronica (Rosemarie DeWitt) has been having an affair, his daughter Olivia (Odessa Young) seems to have a good head on her shoulders, and his class is filled with fewer than a dozen students who actually care about literature. While waiting for his request to go through, the egotistical and pretentious Richard shakes things up, by drinking a lot and generally not caring about anything, and acts like a jerk to everyone who doesn't think he's the best.

The smarter-and-therefore-holier-than-thou act grows tiresome quickly, and as a result, so does the whole of The Professor. We can learn to like a character, warts and all, but it takes a certain kind of performance to make us like a character who's all warts. Depp's work here isn't it.

Copyright © 2019 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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