Gathering dust in some remote vault since it premiered back in 2016 at the Toronto International Film Festival to a tepid reception, a miserable hunk of depressing junk called Katie Says Goodbye is, for no explicable reason, finally opening commercially. Despite an endearing performance by Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) in the title role, it should have remained on ice.
Katie is an optimistic and incurable 17-year-old romantic who works for paltry wages in a greasy-spoon diner in New Mexico and lives in a trailer with her good-for-nothing mother (Mireille Enos), an alcoholic who wastes every penny her daughter brings home on booze. To supplement her already meager tips, Katie prostitutes herself to the customers and one “regular” in particular—a scruffy truck driver called Bear (Jim Belushi) who passes through town for an occasional burger and a toss between the sheets while acting out the role of surrogate father.
KATIE SAYS GOODBYE ★
Katie’s goal is to save enough money to leave New Mexico and start a new life in San Francisco with Bruno (Christopher Abbott), a sleazy mechanic at Bud’s Garage. In Bruno, an ex-con who gives Katie false hopes for a future everyone knows is hopeless, Katie thinks she’s found her ticket to freedom. What she fails to realize is that everyone in town is more miserable than she is and they all set out to betray her trust. Her only real friend is her boss at the diner, Maybelle, played by Mary Steenburgen in a cameo she will no doubt live to both regret and forget.
The point of this grim first film by writer-director Wayne Roberts is that lousy things happen to innocent people. But Katie is guileless to the point of stupidity. A naïve believer in life as a secret fairy tale, she’s more annoying than pitiable. And as pleasant as Cooke can be, her role has almost been erased by Wayne Roberts’ artificial screenplay and catatonic direction.
Gender concerns are superficial. There are more ways than one to get to San Francisco, but Katie can’t seem to think of anything standing up. Before the film’s end, the viewers have thought of about 10 ways already. They begin by saying goodbye long before Katie does.