“Words and Pictures”
Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) is an English teacher at a private high school. He is a nationally known writer whose best years are behind him. In fact, Jack hasn’t written an original piece in years and finds his solace in the bottom of a liquor bottle. He spends his teaching days criticizing his students for not making any effort and drinking straight vodka out of a thermos in his car during lunch hour. His only amusement is battling the principal over whether the annual school literary magazine will be published and playing word games with unwilling teachers in the faculty lounge. Often late to his own classes due to being hung over, he misses dinners with his grown son and has been banned from the local restaurant for causing a drunken scene. Jack is told by the administration that if he doesn’t get his act together, he will be looking for a new job by the end of the school year.
Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) is a brash, outspoken artist who has developed a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. Due to her condition, she is being forced to move from New York to be near her sister, as Delsanto cannot always take care of herself. Delsanto is a fiery individual who isn’t used to depending on help from others. She isn’t happy that she has to teach at the high school to make money, and that she can only paint with the help of braces on her hands and knees. The paintings she now creates are not up to her very high standards, which drives her mad. She is as demanding on herself as she is with her students, insisting that you must always dig deeper to truly do your best.
Jack is immediately attracted to Delsanto, first engaging her in the teachers’ lounge with his word game. He is challenged by her wit and her bold personality, enjoying the fact that she can keep up with his verbal volleys while giving him attitude. They soon get involved over a series of days in a debate on which is more powerful, words or pictures. This debate not only energizes Jack and Delsanto, but also their students, who instantly take sides. The question isn’t if Jack and Delsanto are going to get together, it’s what will Jack do to screw it up?
Owen and Binoche are amazing together in this romantic film directed by Fred Schepisi, especially in the early scenes where their brisk dialogue seems to almost crackle in the air. The chemistry that the two have together, works well, though that chemistry fades a little as their relationship deepens. Owen has fun playing the teacher whose alcohol abuse may bring him down for good. Binoche has the more in-depth role as an artist who is having trouble accepting her fate. The most amazing thing about Binoche’s performance is that all the paintings that her character does in the film are done by the actress herself. There are a couple of the students in the film stand out from the rest of the cast. Adam DiMarco, who plays a favorite student of Jack’s, does an admirable job of exchanging quips with Owen’s character. Valerie Tian is outstanding as the art student that Delsanto sees as having the most potential, maybe even seeing a bit of herself in the girl.
The cast is let down by the script written by Gerald Di Pego, which starts out (like the chemistry between Owen and Binoche) so strong but becomes predictable and a little heavy handed. Director Schepisi doesn’t get everything from his actors, and when the emotions in the film get a little heated or raw, the film can’t produce the needed emotional response from the audience. There is one emotional scene near the end of the film between Jack and his estranged son, played by Christian Scheider, that is quite moving, but that only highlights the missing emotional tone that the film sorely lacks in the 2nd half of the movie.
“Words and Pictures” is a film that you so want to love, but because it never meets the potential of its cast, you can only mildly like it. It’s as if the film needed a kick in the pants from Delsanto’s character to do more…give us more fire in the belly and don’t settle for less. Unfortunately for us, the filmmakers didn’t take their own characters advice. My Rating: Bargain Matinee
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film is currently playing in Atlanta area cinemas. Follow @Lastonetoleave