WORDS AND PICTURES (PG13)
116 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**1/2
The story: Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) was once a promising writer. Now, he teaches English in a high school, causes trouble with his penchant for drink and is distant from his grown son. Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) is an artist struggling to create as rheumatoid arthritis robs her body of ease of mobility. She arrives at the school to teach art and a battle erupts between them over whether words or pictures are more important.
If the movie had only one star attached, it would have been a more conventional teacher-inspiring-students flick along the lines of films such as Dangerous Minds (1995).
But with Oscar-nominated Clive Owen (Closer, 2004) and Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche (The English Patient, 1996) in the picture, the film ends up taking a disappointing turn into romantic- comedy territory.
It starts off on familiar ground.
Jack is trying to get his students fired up about literature and his own passion for the written word comes through in his classes.
One of them calls him "captain", a reference to poet Walt Whitman's O Captain! My Captain! and famously used in the film Dead Poets Society (1989) to laud a beloved teacher. His personal life, though, is in shambles and you know that because he sports a scruffy beard.
The arc for Dina is similar. She, too, is trying to inspire her charges as she demands work that touches both the head and the heart. And she is also dealing with personal frustrations.
When Dina calls words "lies" and "traps", Jack is outraged and battlelines are drawn. The words- versus-pictures clash that erupts mostly feels like an exercise for high school as the two trade jibes and eventually square off in a public debate.
It has been said that the medium is the message. In this case, the medium also has the final word on the words-versus-picture debate.
After all, what is film but an amalgamation of words and pictures?
Still, there is some pleasure to be had watching Owen and Binoche bicker, and enjoying the bickering. With a nickname like "Icicle", you know that Dina is going to be melted by Jack.
While they are fun as an adversarial pair, the inevitable romancing does not quite work. To its credit, the film tries to be honest and Dina gives a touching reason for succumbing.
But while Owen and Binoche are fine actors, they are simply not believable as a romantic item. This is a pairing that is more chalk and cheese than words and pictures.