Words matter. Art matters. Culture is what makes the world go round. So says Wayne Roberts quite vehemently in his Johnny Depp starring The Professor. In the opening scene we learn that Depp’s titular professor, Richard, has Stage Four lung cancer and without treatment may live six months. Deciding to tell only his best friend Peter (an unusually benevolent Danny Huston), Richard begins a campaign of hedonism whilst whittling the literary class he teaches down to a select group of students.
This scene in particular will be the do or die moment for some viewers. As Richard decides he’s wasted enough time teaching the indifferent he dismisses anyone; who has a C grade or less, anyone who intends studying business, anyone wearing sweat pants or who has never read a book for their own pleasure. It’s a punch the air moment for the down-trodden cultural academic or a horribly didactic moment of smugness from Roberts script. If you sit in the latter camp then the rest of the film will not be what the doctor ordered, as The Professor is a film that is incredibly pleased with itself. Set pieces and plot lines are tied up with self satisfying bows that you could only wish for in real life. Despite Richard being an egocentric heel who spouts some compelling one-liners here and there people love him. It’s complete fantasy.
And yet The Professor is hugely entertaining. Depp gives one of his most charming performances in some time. He clearly loves the script, bringing a cool wit to his speeches that may have sounded forced or hammy with another actor in the role. The story allows time to show his tenderness with his daughter Olivia (Odessa Young) and a combative, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? -esque marriage to his wife Veronica (Rosemarie DeWitt).
At a lean ninety minutes The Professor ticks along at a pleasing rate, with little in the way of plot the film focuses mostly on Richard’s interactions with the people around him. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s asking profound questions throughout; what do we do with the time we have and how do we effect the people in lives? It sounds awfully trite but again Depp’s haggard performance stops it from becoming so.
The supporting cast around him are strong all round. DeWitt particularly, at first insufferably pleased with herself this subtly gives way to deeper things. Huston brings a warmth to his role that’s both lovely and unexpected from an actor more at home playing the villain. As a director Roberts allows the scenes to play out, at times to an almost Takeshi Kitano-length. As a script The Professor feels as though it could have been written for the stage so it’s to Roberts credit that he combines visuals without taking away from the script. There’s enough self-knowing bite about the privileged world our characters live in to win you over to their side.
Bouncy, at times enlightening, with a good dose of acerbic charm The Professor is a small delight. Worth the price of admission for Depp’s performance alone.
Dir: Wayne Roberts
Scr: Wayne Roberts
Cast: Johnny Depp, Rosemarie DeWitt, Odessa Young, Danny Huston, Zoey Deutch, Ron Livingstone
Prd: Warren Carr, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Greg Shapiro
DoP: Tim Orr
Music: Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner
Run time: 90 mins
Signature Entertainment presents The Professor on DVD & Digital HD 24th June