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‘Katie Says Goodbye’ Review: A Great Cast is Wasted on Cliché Plots & Disastrous Messaging

Photo Courtesy Vertical Entertainment

The “hooker with a heart of gold” trope is hard to escape. Whether it’s Nancy from Oliver Twist or Julia Roberts’ Vivian in Pretty Woman, it’s perhaps one of fiction’s most well-trod tropes. Writer-director Wayne Roberts’ new film, Katie Says Goodbye, carries on that tradition in the worst way possible.

Katie, the titular hooker played by Olivia Cooke, is a small town Arizona girl who’s saving money from her sex work and waitressing in hopes of moving to San Francisco. Despite being stuck in a trailer she can barely afford, with her deadbeat mother, and barely a moment’s peace from the constant string of men looking to score, Katie seems perfectly content with her abjectly terrible life. She’s overly kind to everyone, never seems angry and believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that true love is not just real, but that it can be redemptive. Though that constant optimism can read as stupidity, it quickly becomes clear that Katie is just faking it, leaning into the denial to keep from admitting how depressing things are. That’s especially true when she meets Bruno (Christopher Abbot), who just got out of jail and with whom she falls deeply in love despite him not seeming to like her very much.

Abbot is just one of the many recognizable actors that make up the cast and part of the fun of the film’s first 20 minutes is trying to figure out what half-remembered TV show is familiar from. That said, having so many familiar faces makes it sort of easy to figure out where the film will go. Roberts and casting directors Cindy Tolan and Adam Caldwell shouldn’t be faulted for filling the film with the best actors possible, but it is disappointing that with the exception of Katie, all of the characters are so one-dimensional.

The Killing actress Mireille Enos as Tracey, Katie’s mother, is resentful and exploitative from the beginning and it’s no surprise when she takes that to an extreme in the film’s final act. Veronica Mars actor Chris Lowell’s Dirk is a sexist pig at the start and he acts on the character’s overt aggression and disdain by the end. Mary Steenburgen (who you should recognize from everything, you philistine) is the nurturing-to-a-fault surrogate mother Katie desperately needs, who is supposed to break the audience’s heart when she’s finally disappointed by Katie in the final act. Each actor plays their roles to the hilt even if each role is little more than a well-trod trope.

Still, while Roberts could be excused for working in clichés if he delivered them in a thoughtful or unique way, a large part of what makes the film such an unpleasant failure is that the follow-through is always extreme as possible. The way Roberts delivers on the sexual threat Dirk represents throughout is, frankly, tasteless. Forced accept a ride home from Dirk and Matty after Bruno passive-aggressively refuses to pick her up from work, it’s clear something bad will happen from the moment Katie gets in the car. Though Lowell’s admittedly strong performance and all the foreshadowing done up to this point makes it unsurprising when the scene ends in Katie’s sexual assault, Roberts shows none of the restraint in portraying the scene that he did in suggesting Bruno and Tracey may have slept together. While Katie and Dirk scream and grunt just offscreen, Matty, who eventually takes part in the assault too, sits immobilized, as if Matty’s lack of heroism is the tragedy in this moment rather than Katie’s assault.

In the end, Katie Says Goodbye is a strain of virulent misogyny disguised as a profound piece of art. It telegraphs every horrible thing that happens to Katie in the first five minutes and then lets each plot point play out in as hatefully cruel fashion as possible only to make a point that only a man would think is liberating. The world can be a horrible place for women and every woman is acutely aware of that in every moment. The bravery of being a woman navigating an unfeeling world isn’t in holding a middle finger up to everyone else and thinking only of yourself, it’s in continuing to push on despite that knowledge and finding peace and happiness in yourself anyway. In that way, Katie is smarter and more sophisticated than the film that bears her name.

Katie Says Goodbye hits select theaters and VOD Friday.

Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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