By Simon Miraudo
October 8, 2012
Literary soapie The Words is mutton dressed as bespectacled lamb. Just because it looks like smarthouse fare doesn’t mean it is, and the proof is entirely in the plodding pudding. It’s the type of self-serious movie where people plaintively peer off into the distance and are asked by their loved ones, “Where’d you go?” It features characters who fall over themselves to cheer on great writers, yet when we actually get to hear their prose read aloud, it is fully of hacky, dime-store descriptive nuggets as, “He liked cheap wine.” Writer-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal’s feature debut tells of books within books, but just when their elaborate house of cards should collapse on the head of the conflicted protagonist, they pack up their things politely and go home. It’s all very inoffensive, and passes the time without much complaint. However, a movie about the price one pays for great art – and that suggests ambition in its storytelling style – shouldn’t be so content to be this middle-brow.
Bradley Cooper plays an unpublished author just as he did in Limitless. He looks like no writer I’ve ever seen, successful or otherwise, so why he keeps getting cast in these parts is beyond me. His Rory Jansen is desperate to get his work out into the world, but no publisher will touch it. When he chances upon a magnificent manuscript hidden within the stitching of an old French document purse, he’s compelled to pass it off as his own, particularly when his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) admits how bewitching she found it. Several years later, Rory is the toast of the New York elite, and confronted by an old man (Jeremy Irons) who claims to be the true author of his acclaimed work. This is the end of Part One.
Or, at least, the end of Part One of Clay Hammond’s (Dennis Quaid) new book. The tale told in the previous paragraph is read aloud by Clay at a signing for his upcoming tome, The Words. Intermittently, he leaves to flirt with intelligentsia groupie Daniella (Olivia Wilde), hinting that he may in fact be the ‘Rory Jansen’ he’s written about. Part Two of his public reading involves the old man retelling how his story came to be. Part Three takes place in Clay’s apartment, with Daniella keen to hear how the story ends, as well as how the esteemed author might have been inspired to pen it.
The cast has been finely assembled; if no one is quite transcendent enough to elevate the material, they’re never worse than the lines they’re given to recite. The structure is only compelling in that the multiple threads keep interrupting one another; it builds not a sense of excitement or gradually increasing intensity and intrigue, but frustration that all these plots keep stepping over one another. And though it’s a long-known requirement that films must show and not tell, the talents of all the authors involved are proven to be less-than when we actually hear their precious words recited. Ah, the words. Any question as to why this picture has been titled thusly will be most certainly answered by the rolling of the end credits, with every character being given plenty of opportunities to extol the virtue of ‘the words,’ whatever they may be. One thing is for certain: they can’t be referring to the script.
The Words arrives in Australian cinemas October 11, 2012.