Part drama, part impossible-to-believe romance, “Words and Pictures” follows the combative relationship of an alcoholic English teacher and haughty art instructor who’re both faculty members at an elite prep school.
The normally engaging Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen co-star as people who should never be part of each other’s lives, either romantically or professionally. Neither Binoche nor Owen nor the disconnected solo performances they render in “Words and Pictures” can make the movie worth watching.
Owen’s Jack Marcus, a former literally star who’s fallen on drunken days and zero poetry productivity, is words. He’s a reckless man alienated from his young adult son and in trouble with the administration at Croyden Prep for his public drunkenness.
Binoche’s Dina Delsanto is pictures. A well-known artist with a prickly personality, Dina suffers from arthritis so severe that it threatens her ability to continue painting.
Jack is unconvincingly depicted as a teacher who can inspire his neither spiritual nor artistic students to higher things.
“The whole frigging school is uninspired, living in the era of the undead,” he laments. But Jack’s efforts in the classroom are too vague and capricious to inspire anyone.
Binoche is more convincing in the role of teacher. Dina’s combination of general aloofness but empathy for one particular student who, in the artist’s professional estimation, actually has talent, runs true to academics many of us may have encountered during our college days.
Meanwhile, Dina’s teaching position at Croyden Prep, something her debilitating arthritis illness forced her to accept, is a descent from the lofty realm of professional art-making she’s accustomed to.
Jack has no illusions about his future as a writer. He spends nights drinking and behaving like a frat boy. An unpleasant fellow. Binoche’s frosty Dina, despite scenes depicting her struggles to create new art, isn’t a character an audience can develop much sympathy or interest in either.
Against the odds and logic, “Words and Pictures” brings oil and whiskey together by shoehorning Jack and Dina into a relationship. It’s so false. Dina, a woman over 40 who must have experienced the world beyond her art studio at one time or another, men included, must know that Jack is a destructive drunk. They do, however, have extreme unhappiness in common.
“Words and Pictures,” following the difficulty its shackled both Jack and Dina with, reaches for an impossibly sunny outcome. But then nearly everything about “Words and Pictures” that went before is also forced and unlikely.