“What wound did not heal but by degrees?”

— Othello

Meet Dina. (Juliette Binoche) She’s a semi-crippled world-famous artist with severe rheumatoid arthritis. Her drug is methotrexate. He’s Jack. (Clive Owen). He’s a renowned award-winning writer/poet and his drug is vodka. They meet in a classroom. What could possibly go wrong?

Since Binoche’s turn in “The English Patient” and “Chocolat” and Owen’s rise from the cold assassin in “The Bourne Identity” to playing Ernest Hemingway in “Hemingway and Gellhorn,” they’ve both become polished top-floor dwellers in the celluloid towers. But this is the very first time they’ve worked together, and it seems like they have known each other since middle school so well do they blend and move about each other inside this story.

Jack has been hanging on to a teacher’s gig at a posh private school in the better section of the Maine woods, (it was actually shot in Canada) where the private yacht crowd houses its bright children. Jack, a perpetually flamboyant presence on campus, a presence that we know comes with pockets of breath mints, teaches an English honors class, and engages his students with a fierce passion for the great writers.

His colleagues, the more scholarly tweedy types, have a love-hate relationship with Jack. His dean likes him, his students pray for him, but the last string has gone taut. His tenure is being threatened due to his tardiness and toothpaste breath that covers the aroma of his liquid breakfasts.

Jack also has a college son down state, clean cut, sober and well mannered, the issue of his first lost marriage, who is engaged and wants Pop to meet her, but a drunken phone call shoots that down.

So we have a charming lout, and we all love the type. The Brits have had a lease on the character for centuries: Peter Sellers, Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton mastered it. Owen, a Brit of the new age, is very good, yet not in that class. Still here he makes it work. He has the twinkle and beneath the beard and breath, the bad boy thing that women love.

But the drinking is getting worse, and we know the ugly writer’s block is thirsty and needs to be fed.

Then one day, Dina Delsanto, a renowned abstractionist, fills the art department’s need for a first-rate teacher. She too is hard nails, demanding the very best from students who THINK they want to be artists.

At home Jack struggles to overcome his block, and pours vodka on his Cheerios. We fear the worst. At Dina’s studio house, she too struggles with her own block. She has not painted a good canvas in a year.

We’re not surprised that sparks bounce back and forth between them, fueled by Jack’s insistence that words are more powerful than pictures. So he comes up with an idea to fire up the students from both classes to create a competition, a war between the arts.

Dina, reluctant at first, but a bit bored with the Maine calm, agrees.

Her students paint, Jack’s write, and in this ivy terrain with only inchoate sexuality warming the chilly air, and no school sports to speak of, the challenge, the competition, ignites.

Of course life refuses to step aside, so that we can envision a Tracy Hepburn love match. Dina’s pain must be dealt with, and Jack’s thirst gets him thrown out of the local posh club and thrust in front of the review board. There is a minor flap, when a sexual sketch about a timid Asian art student is posted and goes viral online, but it’s left unexplored and vanishes.

Jack and Dina’s chemistry cannot be denied. This is a love story, not a great one, but a nice, warm one, so our lovers wind up in her bed, and love, as it always does, seems about to conquer all, but Jack gets drunk and stumbles into her big break-through masterpiece and ruins it.

Hearing the proverbial angel wings beating and feeling his last chance of sustainable love sinking, Jack winds up in an AA meeting and attempts a make up with his son.

Now there is the shipwreck with Dina to repair, and the day of the competition and final results of the board are announced.

“Words and Pictures” was directed by Fred Schepisi, best known in these parts for his 2005 “Empire Falls,” local writer Richard Russo’s novel made into a TV film, and still renowned for his wonderful 1987 “Roxanne” with Steve Martin, and “The Russia House,” with Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. Gerald Di Pego, writer, is remembered for his 2004’s haunting “The Forgotten.” Both are good at what they do.

Stalwarts Bruce Davidson and Amy Brenneman are on board as important review voters. They love Jack as we do, and the odds are in the boyish lout’s favor.

But Jack has wounded many. Some wounds are grievous, some slight, and all will require healing. It’s a love story. It’s Maine, it’s summer, and our money is riding on the charming lout.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.


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