Wednesday, 2 March 2022

The Professor (2018)

In the opening scenes of this film, we learn that a college professor has lung cancer. The doctor breaks the news to him and tells him that with treatment he has eighteen months tops, without, six. He decides to take the latter and try to squeeze life dry during the time he has left instead of spending a bit longer breathing, in and out of clinics.

This is the second Wayne Roberts films I've seen in a few weeks, following my viewing of Katie Says Goodbye, his 2016 outing starring Olivia Cooke. This one has a similar charm and reflective tone as ordinary people have to deal with ordinary situations thrown their way by ordinary life.

Johnny Depp here stars in the central and titular role as Richard, the man in charge of a group of teenagers trying to learn academically from him, whilst he has to deal with a rebellious daughter and wife who's having an affair with his boss! They're clearly a monied family living in a lovely house with all the social and economic advantages you'd expect for a well-paid college professor.

Richard intends to tell the family over dinner, the night of the consultation, but instead he gets bombshell announcements from his daughter first, then his wife - so decides to shelve the idea! Then we see him reflecting on life, taking stock of what may or may not be important, a confirmed atheist struggling with the point (or futility) of what he may or may not do with his six months.

His classroom turns into a philosophical medium, with nods to Dead Poet's Society, as his new-found attitude brings freedom of expression, behaviour and outlook. The students around him respond to this in their own way and relish the opportunity to 'hang out' with Richard, joining him in his freedom, moulding their young minds and attitudes into the bargain. Richard behaves badly with some, tries things that he never has done before, shows a new concern for people he knows will be left behind - and enjoys the power he has over his boss, who thinks he might be able to intervene! All good comic turns in their own spheres.

Richard has a good friend, Peter, who tries really hard to look out for him and for a large part of the film, is the only other person who knows about the diagnosis. Peter is played by Danny Huston (Big Eyes, Stan and Ollie) and does it well, leaping between emotions - often comically. Rosemarie DeWitt (La La Land) plays Veronica, Richard's wife, in a quirky and funny way often, with Odessa Young (The Daughter, Shirley) rounding the family off as the cute daughter Olivia trying to find her sexuality. The rest of the cast support well - especially a few of the students in his class.

The central subject matter stops this from ever quite getting into farce territory, but without that to apply the brakes, it could well have ended up just that. The story moves along at a reasonable pace towards the finale which, as you'd imagine, becomes moving and touching but never soppy. In fact the very final scenes inject a Reggie Perrin kind of look at the absurdity of life and living.

Johnny Deep is quite excellent throughout, though I got the impression that he wasn't really trying very hard - rather having a bit of fun with it all - but turning up the dial on emotional context when needed. It's a good film, spending a while amongst the toffee-nosed as we get onside with Richard giving everything (and most people) the 'V's-up! Adequately directed in the field of light entertainment, unlike Kate Says Goodbye which felt much more of a real-life social drama in many ways. All good stuff though. As I write, it's on Amazon Prime Video - or various streaming platforms. Give it a go!

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