Words, The C
Co-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal no doubt intended “The Words” to be one of those high-minded awards films with a strong literary bent—like “The Hours” (2002) or “Atonement” (2007). Despite its best intentions, “The Words” isn’t convincing as a literary movie and is plagued with excessive voiceover narration that’s at times unintentionally laughable.
“The Words” turns out to be the title of a new book within the film written by Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), a famous, smarmy writer, who’s reading passages from said book to a packed hall. “‘The Words’…by me!,” he proudly announces as he dives into the (possibly autobiographical) story that takes up most of this movie:
Rory (Bradley Cooper) wants nothing more than to be a great writer, another Ernest Hemingway, and luckily he has a woman at his side who completely believes in him, Dora (Zoe Saldana). But success doesn’t come easily for the earnest young writer—in fact, years of fruitless all-night writing in Brooklyn just rush by.
On their honeymoon in Paris, Dora buys Rory a vintage satchel, which contains a lost manuscript by an unknown writer. Rory doesn’t discover the hidden document until their return to America. Blown away by what he reads, he retypes the entire book and—with the impassioned encouragement of Dora, who doesn’t realize that Rory hasn’t written the work himself—approaches an agent he knows.
The manuscript becomes “The Window Tears,” a huge hit with critics and readers alike. Rory and Dora are soon living the life they always dreamed about. But Rory can’t forget, of course, that they’re living a lie.
One day in Central Park, a mysterious older gentleman (Jeremy Irons), the manuscript’s real author, approaches and interrogates Rory. This naturally pushes the already shaky Rory in the direction of a full-blown nervous breakdown.
All of this is relayed with that incessant voiceover narration from Clay, supposedly word-for-word from his book. But in Klugman and Sternthal’s unsteady screenplay, Clay’s book sounds like, well, a picture book. The reading level would have to be junior high at best. For instance, here’s the author describing his character Rory inputting the old man’s masterpiece: “He needed to know…what it felt like…to touch…for a moment.”
“The Words” then gambles on adding a story within the story within the story: the narration switches from Clay’s overly simplistic voiceover to the old man’s overly simplistic voiceover as he recounts the tragic and ridiculous World War II–era love story behind the manuscript that finally became “The Window Tears.”
While “The Words” may seem to be structurally ambitious, the parts are wholly half-baked. The stories lack drama, the characters are incomplete. In fact, both Clay and Rory aren’t that likable; audiences may be eagerly anticipating their punishment by the movie gods.
The big issues this film purports to address—the difference between fiction and reality, the struggle to live with one’s mistakes in life, the suffering necessary in making great art—remain unaddressed in any substantial way by the filmmakers.
Most of the actors, including Cooper, seem slightly confused, while Irons embarrasses himself with a hammy performance that makes all of his scenes with Cooper fall flat.
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