It Never Came to Town - "Words and Pictures"

It Never Came to Town - "Words and Pictures"

It Never Came to Town

Highlighting Films that were Released Theatrically but Never Came to C-U

Words and Pictures – 3 Stars

There’s definitely a retro vibe at play in Fred Schepisi’s Words and Pictures, a film that comes off as a Hepburn-Tracy romance with a bit of a modern update.  Without question, the formula of opposites initially clashing only to ultimately fall in love has been done to death and the only reason to venture into this well-worn territory is if you happen to have two performers you want to throw together on screen to see if they have any chemistry.  Fortunately, Words has Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche in tow and these two consummate professionals ably provide the spark necessary to help this production get around its few rough spots.

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Jack Marcus (Owen) is an English teacher at an elite prep school and to say that his glory days have passed is a bit of an understatement.  Once a promising author, he hasn’t published anything in years.  This, as well as his rather loose teaching style has put him under the microscope as far as the school’s administrative board is concerned and while he might not be officially on notice, they’ve got their eye on him.  Art teacher Dina Delsanto (Binoche) is dealing with issues of her own.  A dynamic painter, she’s accepted a teaching position at the school as she tries to recover from a serious accident that’s left her permanently damaged.  Her anger over her situation obvious, Delsanto stumbles into the lounge on her first day, immediately catches Marcus’ eye and the sparring begins as he engages her in a rather maddening word game she reluctantly takes part in.

The usual back-and-forth that occurs between characters of this sort as well as the couple of misunderstandings that are bound to arise between them occurs with clockwork precision.  There’s nothing wrong with that as the two veteran performers bring an energy to their scenes together that brings just enough va-voom to liven up these potentially tired moments. Screenwriter Gerald Di Pego not only provides them with plenty of witty dialogue but his script shifts in tone throughout, going from light comedy to serious drama without any of this feeling forced or artificial.  Also of note is the subtext at play here, which tackles the issue of what’s the more powerful way of communicating – words or pictures.  A competition between Marcus and Delsanto’s students develops in which each group is suppose to present evidence supporting their side of this argument. Frankly, this is quite silly and is the weakest part of the film, yet it brings to the fore a topic that’s becoming more and more pressing where communication and media is concerned.  With advances in visual effects, the prevalence of handheld communication devices and social media, we’re seeing a shift away from literate well-written messages to increasingly vacuous visual entertainment, a phenomenon that has little upside.   

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One of the film’s biggest surprises is Owen himself.  A veteran of action films and serious drama, it’s refreshing to see him display a comic edge as he brings to life this character that’s gotten by far too long on his charm.  That this all proves to be a façade allows the actor to effortlessly segue back into more familiar dramatic territory, resulting in a compelling and complete performance.  Binoche is allowed to emotionally vacillate as well, albeit not over as wide a range. The actress opens up a bit as Delsanto’s icy demeanor is ultimately worn down by Marcus’ charm and as always, it’s a pleasure to see her on screen.

It’s a shame that the film stumbles at the end.  After all of the turmoil the two principals go through, their final scene together simply doesn’t ring true and leaves a sour taste.  Schepisi seems intent on leaving the viewer with an upbeat ending and while his intentions may be good, they do a disservice to the film overall.  Still and all, Clive and Binoche are a pleasure to watch and for some, that will be enough.


Words and Pictures is now available on home video.  


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