The idea behind Fred Schepisi’s Words and Pictures, which recently premiered at Toronto Film Festival, seemed promising. It aimed to pair art and literature, romance and wit, as well as Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche. Unfortunately, according to recent reviews, the film failed to satisfy the audience who hungered for a rom-com that differed from the usual Hollywood fare.
The movie, written by Gerald Di Pego (Phenomenon, Message in a Bottle), follows the rivalry between boisterous English teacher Jack Marcus (Owen) and anti-social Italian painter Dina Desalto (Binoche). The two involve the entire prep school at which they work in a debate on whether words or pictures are better. Amidst their feisty banter and dealing with their own personal hang-ups (Jack is a drunk who is at risk for being fired from his job and Dina suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, which proves problematic for her art) they begin an improbable romance. While Di Pego is given credit for creating some clever dialogue and trying to create a story that stimulates the moviegoer’s intellect, the consensus is that the relationship between the Jack and Dina is lukewarm at best. Tim Grierson of ScreenDaily notes, “Gerald DiPego’s screenplay focuses mostly on the debate between images and language that’s coyly waged by the two main characters, only later suggesting a growing romantic stirring within Jack for this prickly woman.” Another issue offered by critics is the under-developed side characters. Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter states, “with the spotlight focused on Jack and Dina, there seems to be little interest in developing peripheral characters, and students and teachers alike are hastily sketched, easily predictable figures.”
All that being said, it is not as though the critics believed that the film was a complete mess. There were a few redeeming qualities including Owen’s “surprisingly literate” performance and Schepisi’s ability to get “actors to bring emotional depth to almost any kind of screenplay.” It did not, however, compare to Schepisi’s best works in the romantic-comedy genre (i.e. 1987’s Roxanne starring Steve Martin) nor did it hold the strong acting performances exemplified in his previous project, The Eye of the Storm, leaving Words and Pictures a tolerable film.