Words and Pictures

With remarkable ease, director Fred Schepisi (Roxanne, Six Degrees of Separation) delivers a literate, grown-up comedy in the forgotten tradition of George Cukor and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. A once-successful poet (Clive Owen), working at an elite prep school in Maine, rediscovers his love of teaching when an individualistic painter (Juliette Binoche) joins the faculty as an art instructor. Their flirtatious sparring over the relative merits of literature and visual art evokes the great Tracy-and-Hepburn comedies and culminates in an epic debate between their respective students. Plot generally takes a backseat here to performance and characterization, and the two leads gracefully negotiate a final, unexpected turn from romantic comedy into sober drama.