The Words Review
The writing duo behind The Words
, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, go through such pains to make their film (which is about novelists) feel like a novel that it loses sense of its more cinematic qualities. The Words
moves at a glacial pace. It's overwritten and the stately score and incredibly formal look make the entire exercise feel almost inhuman. Basically, the film needed to be more dynamic, even a bit messier. It might keep your interest because its concept is inherently compelling, but it's hard to imagine the film leaving much of a positive impression on anyone.
The film's structure is a bit complicated, but the proceedings start with Clay Hammon (Dennis Quaid), a successful author who's holding a public reading of his latest novel, The Words
. The story Clay tells serves as the bulk of the film. His novel is about a young author named Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper). We first meet Rory as he's accepting a major writing award, but Clay quickly takes us five years back in Rory's life. He's moving into a Brooklyn apartment with his adoring girlfriend, Dora (Zoe Saldana), and his personal life is perfect. Professionally, however, he's floundering.
Rory can write, but he just needs someone to cut him a break. In the meantime, he and Dora struggle to make ends meet. In spite of all this, they get married and travel to Paris. While there, he buys a swank briefcase in a vintage shop that contains, for Rory's money, the most moving, beautifully written manuscript he's ever laid his eyes on. He recreates it on his computer (for no reason, in particular, except to advance the plot along), and Dora understandably mistakes it for his own writing. So Rory rolls with it, becomes a huge success, and ultimately, must deal with the consequences of his actions when the story's real author (Jeremy Irons) comes calling.
It's easy to blame much of the failure of The Words
on its structure. Every time we exit the primary storyline (with Rory and Dora) to spend time with Clay and his new female companion, Daniella (a totally wasted Olivia Wilde), The Words
loses a ton of momentum. These passages ultimately serve a purpose, but except our final scene with them (which involves a revelation you'll see coming a mile away), they're totally static and grind this reasonably involving film to an instant halt.
That said, this structure is far from The Words
' only problem. Cooper sleepwalks his way through the part of Rory. Gone, thankfully, is the cocky energy he's become associated with after Wedding Crashers
and The Hangover
. But he's replaced it with a closed-off stoicism that doesn't serve a film this melodramatic well at all.
Saldana is a little better, but her role is a little underdeveloped. She has a great scene relatively early in the film when she encourages Rory to show "his story" to a publisher, saying she sees beautiful qualities in the writing she didn't know Rory had. As it turns out, he doesn't, but she's as much in the dark as the rest of the world, and Klugman and Sternthal hint at the possibility that Rory only goes forward with the big lie because of Dora's inadvertently hurtful admission. If they explored that further (to be fair, it does briefly come up again later in the film), Saldana might have had more to chew on.
From a craft perspective, The Words
is fine; competent, but unremarkable. The score (by Marcelo Zarvos) is classy and fits the upper-class (but only just) world these individuals populate. The editing, too, is impressive insomuch as there are quite a few stories within a story, and not once will you lose track of what's going on.
Klugman and Sternthal are first-time directors, but for their rookie effort, they've developed a premise that sounds like it couldn't miss. The film, sadly, is both inert and distant, making it damn near impossible to feel anything about The Words
other than disappointment over its squandered potential.