WORDS AND PICTURES
DIRECTED BY Fred Schepisi
STARS Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche
The small-scale effort Words and Pictures casts Clive Owen as Jack Marcus, an English teacher at a prep school where the students are so engaged with social media that they've forgotten the beauty of the written word. Marcus himself has lost much of his former fire: A published author, he has long allowed himself to drown in booze, even having a vodka-filled thermos always on call in his car during working hours. The school acquires a new art teacher in Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche), a well-regarded artist whose painful rheumatoid arthritis has resulted in her not creating her own paintings in years. Marcus and Delsanto engage in a testy battle in which he insists that a word is more powerful than a picture and she firmly takes the opposite view. They draw the students into their war, but over time, their own personal problems take precedence over their school activities, especially as Marcus continues to drink heavily and make a spectacle out of himself at every turn.
Scripter Gerald Di Pego has fashioned a fair and balanced screenplay that allows both words and pictures to make their cases (although, as a writer, I admittedly found more power in Marcus' superb speech to his students about the potency of famous phrases uttered by Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King), and Owen and Binoche (who used her real-life paintings in the film) expertly punch across the passion of their characters. Although the students largely disappear from the proceedings during the film's second half — and there's one subplot involving a scandalous drawing that's feebly handled — the young performers are aptly cast in their roles, particularly Valerie Tian as the sensitive Emily (and among the faculty, look for Bruce Davison in a nice bit as Marcus' supportive colleague Walt). Words and Pictures will quickly get lost as more and more summer blockbusters hit theaters, but it deserves a passing grade — and more than just a passing glance.