Words and Pictures
How could I resist a romance with the art of words and pictures at its very core? Watching each of these characters struggle with their art and their personal limitations as they come to grips with passing the torch and reconnecting with other people is at once both poignant and moving. Suffice to say, this is not an easy romance for either of them. It is a story full of honesty and inevitabilities. The movie accepts human frailty even as it presents uber-human drives. But this is all just subtext to the the relationships.
Overall, there are very conscious references to Dead Poets Society, and less conscious to The History Boys, Taps, and many other high-school tales with hero teachers. Words never devolves fully into any of these, and even, in some ways, is commenting on their particular brand of drama. In this case, the kids are mostly in the background, though they drive the story. It makes for an odd focus, given the main character drives, but it manages to work. It really is a story about the adults.
What really helps the movie rise is the incredible acting talents of Binoche and Owen as the leads. They are each solid in their own right and have a fun chemistry. Their initial meeting is a great bit of direction and helps set both the tone and understanding of what, otherwise, may appear as melodrama or forced character evolution. Binoche, also, actually painted all the canvases attributed to her character, which only raises my opinion of her. Helping them along are a solid batch of character actors, Davison, Brenneman, Kidder, and Tracy to name a few.
Even with all this positive, there is potential in this piece that is never quite achieved. The result is very watchable, but not memorable. The ultimate miss that diminishes the whole is the final few minutes of the film. The climax is acceptable and makes its point, but manages to be unsatisfying despite the lead-up. That alone doesn’t really take the movie from its shelf of peers. The real clincher is the coda, the final 30 seconds, that is directed so poorly to my eye that it felt hollow. I’m not quite sure how Schepisi (Roxanne) hit such a wrong note after guiding the rest of the film so well, but it definitely clunked as utterly forced and untrue.
As a nice evening to curl up with someone, as long as you aren’t looking for pure romantic fluff, this is worth seeing for many of its moments, if not its whole. It probably won’t end up in your go-to list as a person or couple, but it isn’t a waste of time by any stretch. And if you’re a fan of Binoche or Owen, it is worth seeing just for their efforts alone.