'Just Say Goodbye': Film Review

Just Say Goodbye Still 1 - Walting Entertainment Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Walting Entertainment
Well-intentioned, but lacks polish.

A teenage girl attempts to dissuade her best friend from killing himself in Matt Walting's debut feature drama.

Teen suicide is too important and tragic a topic not to be dramatized with the utmost care. Unfortunately, that's not the case with the directorial debut from Matt Walting. Just Say Goodbye certainly displays an admirable sincerity and seriousness in its depiction of a teenage girl's efforts to prevent her best friend from fulfilling his intention of killing himself. But awkward execution and technical imperfections prevent the film from having its desired emotional impact.

The effective prologue depicts a six-year-old boy encountering the dead body of his mother who has taken an overdose of pills. He's later confronted by his father (William Galatis), who angrily destroys all of the possessions and photographs she left behind and orders him never to say her name again. The story then picks up 10 years later, with the proceedings narrated by 16-year-old Sarah (Katerina Eichenberger, delivering the film's best performance), whose best friend is the now older Jesse (Max MacKenzie), who's still heavily bearing the emotional scars of his mother's death.  

Jesse has other troubles as well. His father has become an abusive, embittered alcoholic, dependent on the school lunches that his son regularly brings home. Jesse is also routinely accosted by a group of classmates led by the bullying Chase (Jesse Walters), who's clearly jealous of his close relationship with Sarah. Jesse's disinterest in living becomes evident when the boys drag him into a lake and Jesse, who doesn't swim, makes no effort to resist.

"I'm checking out, Sarah," Jesse matter-of-factly informs her. The screenplay written by Layla O'Shea attempts to derive suspense for much of the running time with that dangling threat, but it ironically only has the opposite effect. The viewer can empathize with the pain of the troubled youth who blames himself for his mother's suicide and who only wears shirts with pockets so he can always keep handy his one remaining small photograph of her. But his constant references to his plans, delivered less with a tone of suicidal depression than glibness, eventually tax our patience. When he keeps making statements like, "Can't wait 'til I'm gone!" you almost begin to wonder why he doesn't get on with it already.

The storyline includes several melodramatic plot elements that don't ring true, including a revelation about one character's parentage that feels more appropriate for a daytime soap opera than serious drama. The dialogue is frequently stilted and unconvincing as well, especially in a scene in which Sarah confronts Chase about his abusive behavior, and in the film's coda set several years after the main events. The young filmmaker's lack of experience, as well as the obviously low budget, is made evident by numerous technical issues, including an outdoor scene featuring conversation between the two main characters while they're riding bicycles in which the post-synced sound is glaringly obvious.

Just Say Goodbye is certainly affecting in spots, due to both the inherent seriousness and sad relevance of its subject matter and the appealing turns by the two young leads who seem destined for bigger and better things. But the film ultimately seems more like a well-intentioned PSA than organic drama.

Production: Walting Entertainment
Distributor: Leomark Studios\
Cast: Max MacKenzie, Katerina Eichenberger, William Galatis, Jesse Walters, Pamela Jayne Morgan
Director/director of photography/editor: Matt Walting
Screenwriter: Layla O'Shea
Producers: Layla O'Shea, Matt Walting
Composers: Diana Jeffery, Joshua Kaster
Costume designer: Penny Racicot

106 minutes