Whenever you see a movie starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche you should automatically have a certain bit of excitement and expectation. These are two top level performers who have some of the most natural acting sensibilities. The two come together in the 2014 romantic drama “Words and Pictures”. The film is directed by 74-year old Australian Fred Schepisi. I wasn’t familiar with Schepisi’s work so while looking through his filmography the one film that stood out was the 1987 Steve Martin romantic comedy “Roxanne”.
The film is set in Maine. Jack Marcus (Owen) is a language and writing teacher at a prominent college prep school. He has been a successful writer and poet and has been successful as an educator. But it doesn’t take long to see that he has his own demons. First there is his strained relationship with his son. Then there is his self-destructive alcoholism that begins to bleed over into his job performance. He soon finds his teaching gig in jeopardy pending a school administration review.
Binoche plays Dina Delsanto. She arrives at the school to serve as the new art teacher. She is an accomplished artist who has seen her career take a difficult turn due to her painful and worsening rheumatoid arthritis. Her frustrations with her conditions sometimes cause friction with her new students, but she genuinely seeks to increase their knowledge and love for art.
As you can probably guess the two teachers meet and Dina’s first impression of the smug Jack isn’t a great one. Dina wants nothing to do with him. Jack views his playful agitations as his own weird sign of affection. The two strong personalities clash over practically everything from their art forms to the prospects of a possible relationship. Owen and Binoche have a good chemistry and as you watch them you begin to hope that the walls between them will soften. These are two fabulous lead performances.
Writer Gerald Di Pego tosses in a few unique dramatic elements which keeps the film interesting. His script is also smart enough to let his two wonderful leads act. But at the same time the story does end up following a fairly familiar blueprint. It sets itself up to be truly different but in the second half you’ll notice several things that feel all too familiar. Even the ending seems too neat and polished. It never kills the movie, but it would have been interesting to see some of the more unique directions this story could have gone.
Still there is enough here to like and I enjoyed “Words and Pictures”. Its main draw is Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche – two performers I never grow tired of watching. They make this film automatically worth your time. And even though the story isn’t that ambitious or new, the film has its moments that really work. It can be romantic, funny, and genuinely heartfelt. It also gives us characters we can actually care about. Those pluses outweigh the snags which keep it from being even better.