Words and Pictures (2014)
The school days film is a movie which can be incredibly rewarding. It allows filmmakers to really explore big ideas of art, culture, knowledge and everything else we want students to think about when they are in school in slightly natural ways. And there have been some really great films about education, from classics like Dead Poet’s Society and Paper Chase to indie films such as History Boys and Tenure. But the new film Words and Pictures is a massive failure as a school film and romantic comedy.
It seems almost incredible to believe that two actors as incredibly charming as Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen wouldn’t have good chemistry or be likable in a romantic comedy. But there are few romantic comedies which I have seen that have had lead characters as unlikable, and uninteresting, as these two. Which is a major problem for a romantic comedy because even when a film within the genre doesn’t land jokes or seems extremely cliche, there are occasionally times when I’m won over by the chemistry of good acting. So when the biggest problem with a romantic comedy is the total lack of chemistry, the characters romantic entanglement seems completely unrealistic, the movie seems like a bit of wash.
But there are other problems with this absolute failure of a film which is somehow receiving a moderate release. The premise of the film, a bet between an English teacher and art teacher questioning if words are more important than pictures is absolutely ridiculous. It feels like someone just heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” and pitched that idea without a fully formed script, and couldn’t think of much to back it up or explore. We’re supposed to believe that these two characters are in a top school, participating in this ridiculous debate on school grounds, wasting the time and resources of a major prep school. In reality, they should have been fired for even engaging in these conversations during school hours, wasting the time of everyone involved…and I would have been enraged if my child were drawn into this exercise.
Despite the promise that this is some kind of romantic comedy for adults, Words and Pictures is as overwritten a film as can be, and features a truly uninspired direction with every actor miscast. There is a side plot, regarding the sexual harassment of a young girl, which far too dark for something this minor, yet features two really bad teen performances that adds an extra sour note to this already troubled film.