"Words and Pictures" resonates with a clever and endearing energy that harkens back to the days when Doris Day and Rock Hudson dominated the box office. In a film era saturated with big special effects or teenage lust, this movie — just like in the Day/Hudson times — relies on the chemistry of its stars, Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, to hold the attention of an audience.
There are times when their banter comes across as a little too scripted, but mostly it's a welcome treat to watch two intelligent people deal with all the mishaps life has to offer.
Owen plays Jack Marcus, an English teacher at a private school. He's the kind of cool teacher who's frustrated by the lackadaisical approach to learning by his students, so he tries to push them with assignments that test them both academically and spiritually.
His coolness is threatened when the new art teacher, Dina Delsanto (Binoche), arrives. He's both intrigued by her passion for education and a little jealous that she's found a way to connect with the students. This leads to a challenge where the English and art classes will make a case of which is more important — words or pictures.
This contest is just a casual plot line to move the film along. The core of this movie is the connection the teachers make. From the very first antagonizing meeting, the sparks of sexual attraction begin to fly. Building on those sparks is difficult because both are damaged individuals.
Marcus has a drinking problem — the aftermath of a writing blockage — so bad his son balks at the idea of introducing his new fiancée to his father. Delsanto's dealing with the agony that comes from her love for painting being trumped by a rapidly deteriorating physical condition.
Writer Gerald DiPego cautiously brings the pair together mostly through smart and witty banter. Unlike other films and TV shows where couples inexplicably speak in such an intelligent manner, these conversations resonate with a real truth because both characters are played so well by the actors that they appear to have the cleverness to make such exchanges.
The mature and sensitive script only works because of Owen and Binoche. He brings a roguish charm, while she counters with a beautiful vulnerability. It's a combination that makes for moments of excitement and disappointment that are equally captivating. And, as if it wasn't enough for Binoche to deliver a strong performance, she painted all of the artwork for the movie.
"Words and Pictures" is a rarity in the current movie world. It's a film that boldly suggests an audience can be thoroughly entertained when the central figures deal with emotions that are as explosive as any big-budget action scene and more revealing than any tale of teenage lust.
"Words and Pictures," rated PG-13 for drug content, sexual content, language. Stars Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Bruce Davison. Directed by Fred Schepisi. Running time: 111 minutes. Grade: A-