The sides are drawn, but no one wins in Words and Pictures, an uneven lump of comedy, romance and a self-congratulatory celebration of the arts.
One side makes a case for words, while the other advocates pictures. Naturally, such arguments can only result in frustration and argument.
Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche star as Jack Marcus and Dina Delsanto. Marcus is an honors English teacher and Delsanto is an honors art teacher at a preparatory high school. She enters as a new teacher, one with a reputation for hardness and discipline but also for being a highly esteemed artist herself. (Binoche herself created the artwork seen in the movie.)
He’s the smooth-talker who welcomes her with barbs. And of course, she shoots back with quips of her own, a sure-fire auguring of how all this will end. In between, they organize their classes into opposing sides of the war vs. pictures setup.
Director Fred Schepisi, from a script by Gerald Di Pego, fleshes out Marcus’ back story, making him a once-famous poet who now retreats to his car for lunch and a heavy dose of vodka. Elsewhere, he mostly languishes home alone, alienated from everyone, including his grown son. Delsanto suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, making her life as well as her work at the canvas excruciatingly difficult. Marcus can be seen hovering over his computer, while she stoops painfully over her canvases.
But no film could ever render visually what goes on in the mind to initiate these creative processes. Schepisi tries, however, resulting in a succession of cliche-heavy scenes that add little to the character portraits.
The film’s initially vibrant wordplay eventually devolves into recriminations and superficial personal conflicts. Various subplots are thrown in, and they seem exactly that — thrown in. Teen romances rise and fall, Marcus may lose his job, and Delsanto struggles with her future. It’s all overdramatized in a seeming attempt to make everything more important than it is.
The early, promising fireworks eventually just fizzle out, devolving into pedantic lectures that leave both sides cold, as should probably be expected for a conflict no one can win.
BOO ALLEN is an award-winning film critic who has worked for the Denton Record-Chronicle for more than 20 years. He lives in Dallas.
Words and Pictures
Rated PG-13, 111 minutes
Opens June 6