In this unexpected point-and-shoot hackwork from Fred Schepisi, Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche star as positively charged ions who tease each other like children just realizing that they actually want each other’s cooties. A cutesy, cringingly scored battle of words is set into motion when Jack (Owen), a private high school’s beloved English teacher, first meets Dina (Binoche), the new art teacher, leading to a school-sanctioned showdown that will allow them to argue whether words or pictures are more important—hence the film’s unimaginative title. Their playfully contentious war is in service of making their students better practitioners, and the busy script traces Jack and Dina’s own betterment, as artists and lovers, by conveniently saddling them with their own disease of the week: He’s a successful author whose social and professional standing is threatened by his alcoholism, while she’s an acclaimed artist still struggling to work around the inconvenience of her rheumatoid arthritis. Every contrived incident in Gerald Di Pego’s formulaic script, such as the stridently acted scandal that targets one of Jack and Dina’s students, exists only to provide the characters with ammunition with which to mount yet another argument for the supremacy of words over images, and vice versa. And with the exception of a beautifully acted confessional between Jack and his son that belongs in a better film, Owen and Bionche clearly feel the strain of the conceptually lame material, struggling to make organic not only the passion of Jack and Dina’s first kiss, but also the hearty laughter with which the characters signal that they’re willing to give romance another go after one predictably botched attempt. At least, though, the irony with which this transparently written and dispassionately aestheticized film so demagogically argues for the value of words and pictures is brutally convincing.
- Roadside Attractions
- 111 min
- Fred Schepisi
- Gerald Di Pego
- Juliette Binoche, Clive Owen, Keegan Connor Tracy, Amy Brenneman, Valerie Tian, Eva Allan, Bruce Davison, Adam DiMarco, David Negahban
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