WORDS AND PICTURES (2014) Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Valerie Tian, Navid Negahban, Bruce Davison, Amy Brenneman. Directed by Fred Schepisi
You can take two fine actors like Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, throw them in a film together and call it a Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn style rom-com, but without that one essential ingredient, "chemistry", it's just not going to work, no matter how good the actors may be.
Veteran director Fred Schepisi (Roxanne, Six Degrees Of Separation) brings us a film that just misses its mark, but was it really because the actors were mismatched? I don't think so. Given a better script with a different set of circumstances, I think Owen and Binoche could have pulled it off and produced a spark.
Owen plays a once published poet, now prep school English teacher named Jack Marcus. In the classroom he's a brilliant educator who quotes Shakespeare and John Updike and his passion for the literary word is evident as he continuously attempts to his inspire his honors class, even when Jack is off the clock and relaxing in the Teacher's Lounge he is challenging his peers with word games. Jack's personal life, however, is a wreck. He's an alcoholic whose drinking problem has strained his relationship with his adult son and has gotten him banned from the popular restaurant and bar, The Huntsman, which is frequented by his peers.
One day the new Honors Art teacher, Dina Delsanto (Binoche), arrives at the school and Jack tries to get her to partake in his polysyllabic word game, but she's not having it and thus begins the start of their antagonizing relationship. Dina, a talented painter and artist, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that has affected her ability to paint and her disposition, she is bitter and cold but similar to Jack in the sense that she is also an astute mentor who pushes her students to excel.
Jack and Dina continue to irritate each other and the shared students pick up on it and report to each teacher what was said about them by the other, this starts a "Words vs. Pictures" debate, an argument that really doesn't make sense, which leads to a finale in a packed auditorium where the student body will vote on the outcome. On a side note, the artwork displayed in the film was actually painted by Juliette Binoche.
The movie works best when Owen and Binoche are squabbling back and forth but when they cross that line into romance territory, it becomes awkward and forced, at least close your eyes when you kiss her Owen. At first I thought these two distinguished actors were mismatched, but given the right script I think they could have made it work. As the film stands it would have been much more satisfying to see Jack and Dina put their differences behind them and turn out to be good friends.....without benefits.
(2 1/2 stars)
*Now showing at the Landmark River Oaks (Houston) and Regal Arbor 8 @ Great Hills (Austin)
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