Words and Pictures

Say this for Batman vs. Superman: You do at least kinda want to see how that’ll play out. Less so Words and Pictures, which hinges on another for-argument’s-sake sort of conflict, even if the conjunction in its title implies magnanimous harmony. Now, in writer Gerald Di Pego and director Fred Schepisi’s defense, it can’t be easy dramatizing the tedium of an essentially semantic dispute. Certainly they don’t make it look easy. At a very phony-seeming Maine prep school, the rakish English teacher, played by Clive Owen, starts a silly feud with the stern new art teacher, played by Juliette Binoche, to determine whether words or pictures are the superior means of creative human expression. Fully conscripted into this battle (but never fully characterized), their students mostly just add drag. Meanwhile the word guy’s problem with alcohol is getting worse, and so is the picture lady’s arthritis, which must partly explain why their courtship, presumably meant to evoke vintage battle-of-the-sexes screwball wit, instead seems sodden and stiff. To their great credit, not once do the leads behave like they’re above this utterly cornball material, but that almost makes it worse: These are two actors for whom it really hurts to feel embarrassed. In the end, and not quite in the way the filmmakers were going for, no one wins.