“It’s lung cancer.”
“You don’t smoke.”
“I can now.” – Exchange between a professor who has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer and a colleague in “The Professor.”
Richard is an English professor at a New England college, and he has cancer. He has a year and a half to live, at most — six months if he doesn’t get treatment.
So Richard decides to eschew medical care and just … well, be the jerk he’s always been, but now he can be even jerkier!
“I have cancer,” says Richard to a friend who asks why he’s wearing sunglasses in a restaurant. “I’m supposed to wear sunglasses in unusual places.”
“I have cancer,” says Richard to one of his students. “It’s all right, everyone my age has cancer.”
Oh, that Richard. He’s so … blunt. So cavalier. So cheeky in the face of mortality.
Johnny Depp, sporting another one of his distractingly eccentric hairstyles and layered in tweed, plays the title character in a film that mistakes Richard’s snarky, smug, unfiltered persona for charm and charisma.
It’s never a good thing when a film about a dying man sometimes has us wondering if some of the people in his life will be better off without him.
I know; that’s harsh. Maybe a little of that Richard rubbed off on this Richard. But even though writer-director Wayne Roberts’ tragicomedy “The Professor” clocks in at 91 minutes, the good professor starts wearing out his welcome well within the first hour.
Probably the most memorable scene in “The Professor” sticks with us for the wrong reasons. Shortly after being told he has Stage 4 lung cancer, Richard meets with his literature students at the outset of the semester, and says anyone who intends to go into business, or has never read a book for pleasure, or is wearing sweatpants, should pack up their stuff and get out. He’ll give ‘em a C, but they have to leave, now.
“There we go, the government workers and the politicians included. … There go the kings and queens of the watercooler,” says Richard as most of the class files out.
It gets worse.
“One more thing,” says Richard. “No feminist or queer propaganda. The plight of unkempt woman is truly the last thing I want to think about right now.”
That’s an open invitation to boo the “hero” of our story, even though we’ve just learned this man isn’t long for the world.
Filmed in academia-rich browns and golds and maroons, “The Professor” straddles the line between weepy melodrama and snappy comedy, leaving an underwhelming footprint on each genre.
Richard is like an amalgam of Cinematic College Professor cliches, from the aforementioned style choices to his mangy but adorable canine companion to his fashionably unfashionable old Mercedes to his fondness for the drink to a propensity for casual physical encounters, whether he’s having sex in a restaurant bathroom with a woman he’s just met or accepting a male student’s proposition because it sounds interesting to Richard even though he’s not gay.
Time and again, Richard behaves like a lout, even though the characters around him rarely respond as we’d expect them to. (Case in point: Richard enters a faculty event and lays an extended kiss on the dean’s wife. No gray area here; this is an assault. And yet the dean reacts by saying, “Well THAT’S a helluva greeting.”)
Rosemarie DeWitt is saddled with an underwritten part as Richard’s joyless wife, while the wonderful actress Zoey Deutch has a pointless role as a student who is embarrassed by Richard on the first day of class but takes a liking to her boorish prof anyway. Danny Huston — and who doesn’t love Danny Huston — provides a bit of spark as Richard’s trusted friend, who seems to be taking the news of Richard’s impending demise harder than Richard.
By the time we get to the obligatory “Carpe Diem” moment, with the makeup department having put in serious time to make Depp look like he’s about to answer death’s door knock, the most interesting thing about Richard is the Continuity Error Toast he makes.
At the beginning of the speech, Richard is holding a glass of red wine. And then, suddenly, it’s a nearly empty champagne glass. Finally, the champagne glass is halfway full.
Wait a minute. Maybe he’s not only a professor. Maybe he’s also a MAGICIAN.
Poof! No doubt this movie will disappear quickly before our very eyes.