It boasts an impressive cast and some glimmers of strong
performances, notably from a grizzled Jeremy Irons, whose character sets
the film's many stories-within-stories in motion as a young man. And it
kinda-sorta explores the notions of art, fraud and the need to sleep at
night. But ultimately,The Words seems more interested in melodrama
than anything else.
The writing-directing team of Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (who
co-wrote the story for Tron: Legacy and are childhood friends of star
Bradley Cooper) direct for the first time here. Certainly they must be
familiar with the doubts and frustrations all writers face at some time
or another, the need to have your voice heard and the fear that what
you're offering to the world might just plain suck. But while they've
come up with a clever nugget of a premise, they've couched it in a
gimmicky package that keeps us at arm's length emotionally.
The Words begins with celebrated writer Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid)
reading excerpts from his latest best-selling novel (titled The
Words, conveniently enough) to an enraptured crowd. Among the audience
members is the beautiful grad student Daniella (Olivia Wilde), who has
come to flirt with him and eventually, in a total 180, force him to face
his own truth.
While it's always good to see both of these actors, the film did not
need this framing device at all. It's not that it makes things confusing
– all the story lines are distinct and clearly delineated, and Quaid
and Wilde do have some actual tension with each other – it just feels
like show-offy clutter.
As Clay begins to read, the film flashes to the characters in the
book and their story, which is probably where the film should have
started all along. Cooper plays Rory Jansen, who also happens to be a
celebrated writer appearing before an enraptured crowd. What are the
odds? Rory is receiving a prestigious award for his debut novel, the one
that made him an instant literary sensation. Trouble is, he didn't
actually write it.
A flashback to a few years earlier, when his marriage to the
beautiful and loving Dora (Zoe Saldana) was still new, reveals him
hammering away at his laptop and struggling to find a literary agent who
will take a chance on him. While in Paris on their honeymoon, though,
he happened to buy an old satchel in a secondhand store. And within that
satchel, a typed manuscript happened to be hidden: the story of a young
man, his bride and their baby in post-World War II France. And that
typed manuscript just happened to be The Real Thing.
Rory knows it's wrong, but he passes off the work as his own, and
voila! He's a superstar. But wait! Irons is skulking around, an old man
(whose character is literally called Old Man) hoping to talk with Rory
and share his own story – which we also see in tastefully lighted,
sepia-toned flashbacks. (Antonio Calvache of Little Children and In
the Bedroom is the cinematographer.)
It's pretty obvious who this Old
Man is, but it's still a pleasure to watch him relish in regaling his
tale and make this punk kid squirm. Irons also has some lovely,
vulnerable moments, and as Cooper showed last year in Limitless, he's
always a more interesting actor when he's distraught than when he's
Being Bradley Cooper.
Still,The Words leaves nothing to the imagination, smothering all
these storylines in narration that spells out the actions we're seeing
or emotions we could infer for ourselves. And the characters themselves
in all of these tales are total clichés: the scruffy, hungry writer in
his spare Brooklyn loft; the blandly selfless and supportive wife; the
wide-eyed, small-town soldier seeing the world for the first time, etc.
And Hemingway is referenced ad nauseum, as if he were the only novelist
who could possibly influence anyone, ever.
Maybe this was an intentional acknowledgement of literary conventions
from Klugman and Sternthal. Or maybe The Words really is that
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