Umbrella lands Fred Schepisi rom-com
Umbrella Entertainment is renewing its relationship with Fred Schepisi after releasing the director’s first two movies, The Devil’s Playground (1976) and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), on DVD.
At the Toronto International Film Festival Umbrella MD Jeff Harrison went to the world premiere of Words and Pictures, Schepisi’s US-set romantic comedy/drama starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche.
Harrison made an offer for the Australian rights and a deal was negotiated with the international sales rep, Nicolas Chartier’s Voltage Pictures. Roadside Attractions subsequently bought the US rights.
Owen plays Jack Marcus, an English teacher at a New England prep school. Jack is a former literary star who hasn’t had a book published in years. Estranged from his son, he takes refuge in booze, which gets him banned from the local pub.
His life changes when he meets art instructor Dina Delsanto (Binoche), who’s been forced to stop painting due to arthritis. While he flirts and trades barbs with her, Jack comes upon an inspired method of galvanising student interest in their studies: he declares a war between words and pictures.
The screenplay is by Gerald Di Pego, whose credits include Angel Eyes, Message in a Bottle and Phenomenon.
The Hollywood Reporter critic Deborah Young lauded the “the smooth-as-vodka screenplay [as] a middle-brow mashing together of Dead Poets Society and rom-com for audiences allergic to vulgarity and sex scenes.”
She gave thumbs up to the leads’ performances, noting that “Owen pulls out a surprisingly literate side of himself” and Binoche “has rarely looked so beautiful onscreen, even playing a woman with physical handicaps.”
Young concludes, “Schepisi, whose last film was his adaptation The Eye of the Storm, based on an Australian classic, is a general who marshals actors to bring emotional depth to almost any kind of screenplay. Here the human elements take the foreground, and romance comes trailing along forlornly behind.”
Movie Mezzanine's Anna Tatarska hailed it as "the most enjoyable and surprising film I’ve seen currently screening in Toronto. It’s light but full of sparkling dialogue, and rich with surprisingly acute knowledge of the human soul. Sophisticated cinemagoers might feel tempted to skip the seemingly conventional story of a romance between two middle-aged art teachers, sensing the sweet, romantic sauce that dominates popular cinema. I hope they don’t, because they would miss a true gem."
Rather less impressed was Screen Daily’s Tim Grierson, who said the film aspires to be “an intelligent, sophisticated date-night offering” but is “torpedoed by artificial conflict and chronic cutesiness.”