Film Review: Words and Pictures 

Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche in a rom-dram train wreck.

Sometimes when you see a bad movie, you say, "How did this get made?" Maybe, you surmise, someone lost a bet. Or maybe, as seems to be the case with the recent Legends of Oz, the film was the by-product of an elaborate financial scam. There's enough puzzling rubbish produced to fuel a popular podcast called "How Did This Get Made?"

Unfortunately, with Words And Pictures, it's all too easy to suss out the pitch: Imagine Dead Poets Society, only Robin Williams has a love interest who is also a teacher.

click to enlarge Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche
  • Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche

Clive Owen plays Robin Williams ... I mean, Jack Marcus, the eccentric English teacher who pushes his students to greatness at the requisite elite New England prep school. But Mr. Marc, as his students call him with forced whimsy, has a problem. You can tell from his beard that he used to be a hotshot writer, but now he's hit the bottle, and the teaching gig is just a stop on the way down to rock bottom. His grown son has a girlfriend he's too drunk to meet, the student literary magazine he founded isn't as good as it used to be, and the school administrator whom he romanced with his roguish charm when he arrived at the school now has it out for him. Will he lose his job? Will he kick the joy juice and get his writing mojo back?

Enter Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche), the eccentric art teacher who pushes her students to greatness. She used to be a hotshot artist, but now she's come down with rheumatoid arthritis and so has been forced to move to this sleepy, poorly photographed New England town to live with her sister. She still has the vision, but can she overcome her maladies to once again make paintings that will match your couch? And, clearly, as an attractive woman without a man, she needs love. Maybe she and Robin Williams should get together.

It will surprise you to learn that, at first, Marcus and Delsanto (as he, being the consummate ladies' man, insists on calling her) apparently can't stand each other. She's annoyed by his charming little game where he drunkenly mugs in the teachers' lounge and challenges the uptight educators to come up with multisyllabic words like "antihistamine." He's annoyed that she's too good at it. Eventually, in an attempt to save his job and passive-aggressively woo Delsanto, Marcus proposes a contest: Which is better, a student assembly will be asked to decide, words or pictures?

Yep. That's the movie.

But wait, I imagine you might say. This is a romantic comedy! Contrived setups are mandatory! Did you see Sleepless in Seattle? Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had chemistry! So what if the words-versus-pictures "war," which peppy students occasionally show up to remind us about, is pointless? What will carry the day is their raw animal attraction that throws sparks off the screen! We're just here to see Owen and Binoche mix metaphors!

Well, first of all, Words and Pictures is billed as a romantic drama, not a romantic comedy. And, second of all, Owen and Binoche nail the "don't like each other" part of the rom-dram arc but lack the "secretly like each other" component. Maybe it's the fleeting look of disgust that crosses Binoche's face as Owen's paws close around her. Or maybe it's the way Owen savors that vodka a little too realistically. But these two actors look absolutely miserable in each other's presence. The "boy gets girl" phase is remarkably short: She saves his job, he compliments the lighting in her studio, then we dissolve into a post-coital verbal sparring match and some red wine by the bay. The "boy loses girl and spirals into self-destruction, goes to AA, and redeems himself by making a funny speech at the stupid words-versus-pictures thing that we'd forgotten about but for some reason have to do anyway" phase goes on way too long.

There are some bright spots: Owen is agreeably charismatic when he's not trying to pretend he doesn't hate Binoche, and Valerie Tian acquits herself well as Emily, a talented young artist who gets sexually harassed via social media, because that's a thing the film's writer (Gerald Di Pego) has heard happens to kids these days. But overall, Words and Pictures is too timid and half-hearted to even make an entertaining train wreck.

Words and Pictures

Opens Friday, June 13th

Ridgeway

Words and Pictures
Rated PG-13 · 101 min. · 2014
Official Site: wordsandpicturesthemovie.com
Director: Fred Schepisi
Writer: Gerald DiPego
Producer: Curtis Burch, Gerald DiPego and Fred Schepisi
Cast: Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche

Trailer


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Words and Pictures

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • Trainwreck vs. Ant-Man

      What do Marvel’s smallest superhero and Amy Schumer’s feature debut have in common?
    • Terminator Genisys

      Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to his greatest role
    • Amy

      Asif Kapadia’s new documentary confronts the queasy legacy of Amy Winehouse

Blogs

Tiger Blue

Memphis Tiger Trivia

News Blog

'Quarry' Filming to Close Streets

Music Blog

Chain and the Gang at Murphy's

Music Blog

Primitive Man and Valkyrie at the Hi-Tone

Hungry Memphis

Guess Where I'm Eating Contest 73

Exhibit M

Tommy Kha a "Supporting Character" on "Girls"

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Marco A.

From My Seat

Next Card Up: Redbirds Becoming Cardinals

Exhibit M

Best Art Instagrams of the Week: Flyer Round-up

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Chris McCoy

Readers also liked…

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2015

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation