Streaming Releases: Just Say Goodbye (2019) - Reviewed

Suicide is often romanticized by the young not as a painful ending, but as a ticket to immortality.  The struggle to accurately depict the painful realities, particularly for those left behind, in a way that the option does not appear to be a feasible one, is prevalent in popular culture.  Perhaps modern teens aren’t reading Romeo and Juliet as much as previous generations, though they’ve likely seen the 1996 DiCaprio film, not to mention the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why or the popular Broadway musical Dear Evan Hanson.

Debates rage on, as they often have, exactly how young people will interpret the messages of these stories, and whether or not to some extent they even go so far as to glorify it.  The new independent film Just Say Goodbye provides an outsider’s perspective; namely of the best friend who fears she’ll be left behind. While no one would ever accuse the film of glorifying the act, the difficult message may still come off a bit mixed to a sensitive viewer.

High schooler Sarah (Katerina Eichenberger) excitedly plans her summer dream trip to New York, until she discovers that her deeply troubled best friend Jesse (Max MacKenzie) plans to commit suicide while she’s gone. The story is told primarily from Sarah’s point of view as she spends the rest of the film on an emotional roller coaster, willing to do whatever she can to save her friend.

Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It)

The film pulls no emotional punches as we see, largely through flashbacks, the events in Jesse’s life that led him to this conclusion.  Layla O’Shea’s screenplay is smart, efficient, and brutal when it needs to be, and most importantly written how modern teenagers talk.  The conversations feel real, which is also a credit to the impressive performances from the two leads as well as their small but talented supporting cast, particularly William Galatis as Jesse’s emotionally distant widower father.  It’s a difficult subject to tackle, and a difficult way to tackle it, but for the most part everything is handled gracefully. Things do get a little dicey at the conclusion of the film; to say more would a dreaded spoiler.  But the eternal problem with telling a story about suicide is how to end it in a way that is both satisfying and appropriately impactful.

There are points of the film that devolve a bit into after-school special territory; it’s a hard thing to avoid when trying to make an accessible but emotionally accurate film on the subject.  Quality-wise, the seams do show a bit in this Indiegogo-funded feature.  But for a debut film by a young director, Just Say Goodbye is solid, never fully succumbing to its limitations. There’s an impressive amount of raw talent on display that, given some polish and experience, could really nail what the film is going for.  But for its shortcomings, which are few, Just Say Goodbye manages to handle a difficult subject gracefully.

-Mike Stec