Only writers would think that what they do for a living is romantic, dramatic, and thoroughly interesting. Only directors who write their own screenplay about writers would try to convince an audience that these attributes are true.
The Words is a story about a man who writes a story about a man who steals a story. Having fun yet? Dennis Quaid plays Clay Hammond, a celebrated writer and apparent literary genius. His latest novel, “The Words”, is a huge hit. At his award ceremony he reads sections of his book to the audience, which come to life for us after a few short sentences. In Clay’s story, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) is an aspiring writer who just can’t seem to produce anything worth publishing. As much as he may want to be an acclaimed writer, he soon learns his limitations. Enter a weathered, orphaned manuscript that basically falls into his lap after a visit to a French vintage shop. Turns out that this forgotten text is the most amazing book ever. Want to guess what happens next? The trailers have already spoiled it for you. After monumental unearned success, Rory is forced to confront his Big Lie when he meets a haggard Old Man (Jeremy Irons) who knows the origins of the manuscript. Let the inner conflict of tortured writers wash over you in all its ridiculous glory.
The disbelief begins from the very first scene. As Clay begins reading his acclaimed novel to the audience, you realize that what he is reading is the worst combination of sentences you have ever heard in your life. They sound something like this:
“Pierre used to be a jockey in college. He loves to have rice pudding with his tea. He loves solving animal murders. Pierre has two horses, Jacques and Paris France – both girls. He rides Paris France on the brick roads in London, looking for mysterious things. He rides Jacques for pleasure.”
Obviously, this is not a quote from The Words, but from another movie about literary plagiarism (bonus points if you know what it is). However, this is precisely how the few sentences sound before Cooper begins playing out the narration. There is no believable way that Clay’s best selling novel reads like this.
The rest of the dialog is overburdened with cliches and a heavy musical score, trying like the devil to force you to emotionally connect with the story and characters.
There is an inkling of charisma between Cooper and Zoe Saldana (Clay’s wife Dora), and that was the most genuine thing about the entire movie. Cooper is given little more to do than brood with teary eyes over a broken self-image. Jeremy Irons plays The Old Man, and while he’s a great actor, his English accent slips through quite often, causing distractions during the “dramatic” moments. His character is tormented too, but lives in a world of regret.
The Words spans three timelines: the present with Clay, the recent past with Rory, and the 1940’s in which The Old Man is a young man writing a book. Or is Rory in the present and Clay is his future self? Or are the stories of Rory unrelated to Clay personally, though mirror certain aspects of his life with a little added flair? Is Dora not only the fictional presence of Clay’s real wife, but the true inspiration for his book within a book concept? How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? Or is it just a well thought out ploy to get you to buy weird candy? I say weird candy, but the world may never know. Honestly, neither will you after sitting through this flick. Mysteries and twists are heavily foreshadowed, only to disappoint you in their fruition. Other, more obvious epiphanies are beaten into your head repeatedly. I wish they had used a less subtle way to do it though. Like with a sledgehammer. To the temple.
The Words tries very hard to make shallow story with zero mystery seem like the greatest cinematic gift from God. Like our buddy Rory, its limitations and poor choices quickly show it for what it is: pathetic.
I give The Words 2 “Time Capsules” out of 5.