Thursday, May 22, 2014

“Words And Pictures”–Movie Review



This week, the Spring Semester of my movie class concluded with a screening of the comedy-drama “Words And Pictures”, starring Clive Owen & Juliette Binoche and directed by Fred Schepisi.


When two teachers at a New England prep school battle each other over the value of their respective disciplines, they develop a mutual attraction to each other – but will the personal issues in their life inhibit a romance?


Jack (Owen) is comfortably ensconced as an English teacher at a preparatory school in Maine; recently, his promising career as a published writer has been derailed, likely due to his drinking problem. Because of this and the erratic behavior that has resulted, he now finds that his job is in jeopardy. Around this time, Dina (Binoche) starts working at the school as an art teacher; a successful and highly respected painter from New York City, she relocated to lead an art class, but not entirely by choice. Suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, her painting skills have gradually deteriorated because of limited mobility and dexterity.

When the two meet, they don’t exactly hit it off. Soon, Jack learns from his students that Dina is waging something of a “war” against him – she has made it known that the visual images of pictures are more meaningful and expressive than mere words. Jack accepts this challenge and defends his side, trying to prove that proper, well-chosen words make more of an intellectual or emotional impact than any picture could ever hope to accomplish. During their “battle”, the two realize that they’re very drawn to each other.

Meanwhile, as the editor of the school’s periodical, Jack publishes work under his name that he’s plagiarized. Eventually, the administration of the school become aware of this and he submits his resignation. Following a drinking binge, he confesses this to Dina and in his drunken state, manages to destroy a painting on which she’s been working. This results in Dina completely cutting off any contact with Jack, both professionally and personally. Due to the students’ involvement in a formal debate scheduled on the “words vs. pictures” issue, they expect both teachers to attend to support their respective viewpoints. But given Jack’s impending job loss and Dina’s growing health concerns, will they reunite for the debate and repair their professional and personal relationship?


Good performances by Owen and Binoche are unfortunately not enough to save “Words And Pictures” from some rather contrived situations; shots of mugging at some of the jokes certainly don’t make them any funnier – although sometimes a few of the lines are as smooth as the quadruple-distilled vodka Jack pulls from his refrigerator every morning. The screenplay appears to make an effort to tackle certain serious issues –namely, the lives of adults trying to overcome limitations of debilitating illnesses either self-inflicted or not. However, the subject matter is severely undercut – if not trivialized – by trite events tossed in as subplots but wind up being merely filler.

Among the subplots for Owen’s character are his relationship with his grown son, investigation of bullying between students and participation in an Alcoholics Anonymous group. The bullying subplot feels like the biggest contrivance in the script; Dina is also asked to join this investigation, putting she and Jack in a position where they are forced to work together, thus increasing the tension between them. Ultimately, it’s never entirely clear what drew these two characters to each other since there seems to be so much overt hostility between them.

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed director Fred Schepisi. Schepisi said that while the schedule called for a 35 day shoot, he really could’ve used 42 days because there were so many set-ups required each day. Although the story took place in Maine, he said they wound up actually shooting in Vancouver, Canada because of more attractive tax incentives. While most of his experience has been shooting on film, this was one of Schepisi’s first times shooting a feature film on digital video; he said this came out of necessity – in Canada (and in his home of Australia), there are no more film laboratories and in the United States, there are only two or three left.


 Words and Pictures (2013) on IMDb


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