Writer-director Wayne Roberts’ The Professor is an uneven comedy drama. The film is not memorable viewing.
After he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, university lecturer Richard must face his own mortality. He decides to live his remaining days to the fullest, ruffling feathers amongst family, colleagues, and students…
With The Professor, writer and director Roberts gets to the crux very quickly. Viewers are immediately given Richard’s prognosis and the decision he takes within the opening few minutes of the film. From here the narrative concentrates on Richard’s attempts to live life to the maximum, and the fallout from this. The Professor may have been a more intriguing film with a different protagonist.
As it stands, Richard is a staid main character; appearing almost as if out of a different era. His views and treatment of women is lamentable. In this era of calling out inappropriate behaviour, a protagonist such as this seems like an anachronism. Moreover, the character is very privileged. At one point Richard mentions that he cannot be fired, thanks to his tenure. Whilst recent films and television shows have focused on privileged characters in a nuanced and interesting way (Big Little Lies springs to mind), this isn’t the case here. Instead, Richard relies upon position in a way that is less than endearing.
As the film progresses, the tone shifts to melodrama as the protagonist and his loved ones face the reality of the situation. There is a pivotal scene in which Richard addresses an audience of colleagues and friends. Roberts seemingly aims for weight here, but the emotional pull is not present. The Professor does not easily do humour or emotion. Earlier barbs from the protagonist are hit and miss, while later scenes do not pack a dramatic punch.
At first glance, it seems a welcome change to see Johnny Depp in a pared back role. Yet with his heavy drinking and increasing zeal, Richard is not so unlike other Depp depictions. Danny Huston is good in a small role, while Rosemarie DeWitt is underused. The rich autumnal tones very in keeping with the setting.
Fundamentally, the film relies on its protagonist, yet presents one who feels out of time. The Professor does not offer the career resurgence for Depp that his fans may hope for.
The Professor is available on DVD and Digital HD from24th June 2019.