There is nothing charming, insightful, or engaging about The Departure, writer/director Merland Hoxha’s first foray into feature-ish length cinema (the total runtime is just a little over an hour).
Based on a 2017 short of the same name, The Departure is the story of Nate (Grant Gunderson), a salesman living in Los Angeles who accepts a six-month job in New York. Worried that his girlfriend Jessica (Kendall Chappell) will cheat on him while he is away, Nate devises a plan to “test” Jessica’s loyalty.
The problem is that The Departure doesn’t have the nuance or subtlety needed to explore the issue of fidelity in its full complexity. The female characters are lacking in emotional and psychological depth. Even the camerawork is one-note: most of the film consists of medium shots, however, there is little going on in terms of body language or movement and the performances from the lead actors themselves are not nuanced enough to make this kind of shot necessary. The result is that the characters are presented at a removed, almost emotionless, distance. The script is similarly flat. Nearly every conversation begins with a mundane exchange about their jobs, even when the character’s work has absolutely no relevance to the story.
Both Nate and his best friend, John (Austin Lauer), are intensely unlikeable people – but I get the distinct impression that the audience is meant to sympathize with them and care about their problems. In the opening scene, John is on a date with a woman named Amber (Olivia Lemmon), who is given absolutely no personality beyond the fact that she is vegan. Though he doesn’t show much curiosity about her interests or life, commenting dismissively that veganism is the latest “fad”, John is hurt and frustrated when Amber checks her phone rather than listening to him as he recounts the plot of Gerald’s Game. The dialogue itself is stiff and uninspired, but even more uncomfortable is the fact that the scene is clearly meant to establish what a great guy John is. The problem is that John is not a great guy. He’s not even an average, but likeable, guy. He’s just a boring straight, white guy that wants women to hang onto every word he says. This scene is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to John’s behaviour. Without giving too much of the plot away, John later deliberately gets a woman drunk and manipulates her into sleeping with him. John is clearly intended to be the “good guy” in this story, by the way. Nate is, arguably, even worse.
What is telling about The Departure is that the obvious sexism wasn’t even enough to make me angry. The dialogue and camerawork were both so flat and uninteresting that it was difficult to care much about what was happening on screen at all. At one point, I found myself laughing out loud at Nate’s remarks about women and heterosexual monogamy (my term, not his) – only to remember that this was not, in fact, a comedy and these words were not intended as satire.
To be blunt, The Departure felt like a waste of my time and attention. It’s probably a waste of yours as well.
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