Throughout the film, “Words and Pictures” churns what it refers to as a war between the superiority of words versus pictures. The story ties closely to the familiar movie theme of dedicated teachers inspiring achievement in their students. However, two other aspects make it an enticing and fresh movie experience.
Movies such as “To Sir, With Love,” “Freedom Writers,” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” have lightning rod performances by the likes of Sidney Poitier, Hillary Swank, and Richard Dreyfuss. Despite the spotlight on a teacher, the resonance is always about educating the kids.
“Words and Pictures” decided to stick foremost with the personal journey of the teacher, actually two teachers. More than being teachers, one is an author and the other a painter. Circumstances have funneled them into teaching honors English and honors Art at a private high school. The students matter, but they are secondary to the demons and the inevitable romantic pairing that make this movie what it is.
At its core, the film works because Clive Owen (“Inside Man”) and Juliette Binoche (“Chocolat”) are marvelous at embodying the souls of a lover of the written word and a lover of the rendered canvas. The interpersonal chemistry simmers and bubbles in effective proportions toward a problematic happy ending.
The busy script can’t help snagging on some awkwardly overt flow. That said, it makes an especially telling juxtaposition that, by itself, is worth seeking out this film. The author hasn’t published in years. Whatever the chicken and egg genesis of his current state, he’s become an alcoholic who does not see himself as such. The painter, inflicted with painful rheumatoid arthritis, suffers decreasing command of her physical tools.
Without encouraging us to wag a finger at a “behavioral” disease versus a physical one, the film portrays one human being who repeatedly undermines his gifts and the other human being who musters strength to sustain hers. With repeated references in the film to words versus pictures foreshadowed by the title “Words and Pictures,” a holistic sensibility makes this an effective turn at formula filmmaking.