Owen, Binoche star in 'Words and Pictures'

Posted: June 06, 2014

MAYBE it's due to our already long summer of diarrhea jokes, but I developed a soft spot for the clunky bookishness of "Words and Pictures."

This is an inspirational teacher movie in the Mr. Chips/Mr. Holland vein, which doubles down on the inspirational teachers - an English teacher (Clive Owen) and an art teacher (Juliette Binoche) lead a student-body debate on the relative merits of writing and painting.

It's also a love story - Jack (Owen) is a blocked writer and an alcoholic, Dina (Binoche) is a prominent painter whose work is now compromised by rheumatoid arthritis. Their struggles with the creative process are meant to link them.

There are a couple of problems with this. One, it's a transparently schematic screenwriting device. Two, alcoholism may be a disease, but it in no way equates with rheumatoid arthritis. There are tacky attempts to link/contrast the teacher's boorish, destructive booze bingeing with the crippled art teacher's heroic efforts to find a new way to paint.

It ends up showing how unsuited they are as a romantic match, though the movie pursues this angle anyway, mostly on the grounds that they belong together because they are Owen and Binoche, both very game. (Binoche's own painting is featured in the movie.)

The movie is on firmer ground in the classroom, where Owen and Binoche push their privileged private-school pupils, and where the movie's prep-level discussion of literature and art feels at home.

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