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Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen
Roadside Attractions
Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen

Words and Pictures

Movies

Issue: "2014 Books Issue," June 28, 2014

For a movie mainly about inspiration, Words and Pictures is spectacularly lacking in it.

This movie is an hour and 44 minute–long rant (that feels longer) masquerading as a romantic comedy about two private high-school teachers, one of English and the other art, who deliver fiery spontaneous monologues about the importance of words and pictures. And that’s too bad, because even though Jack Marcus and Dina Delsanto are caricatures, they are played by Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, two good actors working hard to be authentic and to have honest chemistry when they are not forced to laugh their way through jokes this screenplay tries to pass off as witty banter.

When we meet them, Jack and Dina are living parallel empty lives struggling—for different reasons—to regain former artistic glory. Their students look to them for inspiration, they look to each other, and none of it works out. While the movie purports to end happily it’s unclear why.

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The movie is rated PG-13 for “mature” themes, including alcohol abuse, some nude art, premarital sex, and mild language, but more offensive is the sheer lack of a point. “Is a picture more powerful than a word?” is an interesting question, but a movie about its various answers is not. Director Fred Schepisi and writer Gerald Di Pego seem most energized by the philosophical exposition taking place mainly in classroom settings, and fill the rest of the movie’s runtime with endless scenes of Dina struggling to paint and Jack falling down drunk. Unrelated subplots include teenage sexual harassment, a years-old one-night stand with a member of the school board, and the slow deterioration of a father-son relationship.

While words and pictures may “elevate” the characters’ lives beyond humdrum reality (such as her rheumatoid arthritis and his drinking problems), this movie doesn’t deserve to be elevated.

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