Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Words and Pictures': Actors Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche Triumph over Plot Contrivances

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Words and Pictures': Actors Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche Triumph over Plot Contrivances

Article excerpt

"Words and Pictures," directed by Fred Schepisi, is a romantic comedy wrapped inside an intellectual skirmish. It literally tries to answer the question: Is a picture worth a thousand words?

In this corner, we have Jack Marcus (Clive Owen), an acclaimed alcoholic poet at a posh New England prep school. Jack has squandered his reputation and hasn't written much of anything in years. Bored and bitter, he spews intricate word games to faculty and friends, who don't bother to play along. He still loves literature, though, and bemoans the new generation's obsession with pictures, screens, and images.

His opponent is the Italian-born Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche), the new art instructor, who is an abstract portraitist and a handful. (An accomplished artist, Binoche painted her own canvasses for the film.) One of the first things she tells her students is that she is "not the kind of teacher you're going to come back to visit when you're all grown up with a bunch of chocolates and a Hallmark card." Her severe rheumatoid arthritis has made her own painting, her own life, a real challenge.

Rather too neatly, these two teachers square off from the get- go. Both acrid, both impassioned by their art, they seem made for each other - which, unlike us, takes them practically the entire movie to realize. It's a sort of high I.Q. Tracy-Hepburn setup, though the chemistry between Binoche and Owen is often adulterated by a flurry of cooked-up contrivances. Screenwriter Gerald Di Pego's writing is too diagrammatic and preachy, though he has a gift for tart one-liners. One of his best: Jack, introduced to the new art instructor and noting her artistically wrapped scarf, exclaims, "Hence the scarf," to which Dina, noting his English lit credentials, shoots back, "Hence the hence."

Jack and Dina's nonstop arguing soon becomes the basis for a school-wide contest seeking to prove whether literature or painting is tops. If the preppies had been more sharply defined, less bland, this gambit might have paid off, but as it is, they don't look like the kind of kids who would derive a great deal of inspiration from either words or pictures. …

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