Writers & Directors: Brian Klugman & Lee Sternthal
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde
First-time directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal’s first feature film, The Words, has received some scathing reviews abroad, with Rotten Tomatoes rating it at a meagre average of 22%. The site has torn the film to shreds saying it is “neither as clever nor as interesting as it appears to think it is.” The criticism is really a bit harsh. The film is quite enjoyable if you can look past some of the loose ends and a few superfluous additions to the plot.
The Words is essentially a piece of filmic metafiction. It’s a story about a story about a story, in other words: three interweaving storylines. The film opens with a book reading by famous author, Clayton Hammond (Dennis Quaid), of his latest work, The Words. The book is about an aspiring and struggling young writer in New York, Rory Jansen (Golden Globe and Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper). After countless letters from publishers rejecting his first novel he takes a job in the mailroom of a literary agent where his dream appears to die.
In the meantime, Rory and his girlfriend, Dora (Zoe Saldana), marry and decide to honeymoon in Paris. While roaming the city, Dora finds an old briefcase in an antique store and gives it to Rory as a present. Back in New York, he discovers hidden in the briefcase an old, unsigned manuscript. As he reads the unknown author’s story of a romance set in Paris post-World War II, Rory realises he has stumbled upon a masterpiece.
Without too much deliberation, he re-types the manuscript on his computer, prints it out, hands it in to a book agent and overnight he becomes a bestselling, award-winning writer. Fame, fortune and respect are now his.
Then, at the cusp of his success Rory meets a mysterious old man (Jeremy Irons) in the park. It does not take too much guessing that the man is the author of the story which is the tale of his own tragic romance that he now recounts to the young plagiariser. When he lost the manuscript the old man never found the inspiration to write again. The man wants no money for his work, but he is angry and accuses Rory of stealing someone else’s pain. At the same time, back in the ‘real’ world it emerges that Hammond himself has a secretive past.
The Words has the potential to be a much better film than it is. Parts of the story are redundant and unnecessary. Olivia Wilde’s character, a seductive literature student who pushes Hammond about the true meaning of his novel and the difference between truth and fiction, serves little purpose. The script could be more tightly written and better focused, which perhaps points to the two directors’ lack of experience.
Cooper and Irons both perform excellently which gives the film a boost. Those who are fans and students of literary culture are likely to enjoy the film while others will probably find the multiple layers of the plot combined with the juxtapositions of ‘deep’ themes exhausting and maybe a little pretentious.