This is what I know from personal experience: a great, or even good movie can transcend pain; a mediocre one will have no effect, and a bad one will just make things worse. I went into The Words hoping for a distraction from a sore back; it just made things worse.
After years of work, Rory Jansen’s (Bradley Cooper) novel collects rejection after rejection (it’s a ‘work of art,’ but ‘it’s too interior’). In a briefcase his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana) got for him while they were honeymooning in Paris (years before!), he discovers a manuscript that is so good that he types it out as a kind exercise just to feel the words go through him.
Dora, who has never before gone into his writing files on their laptop, discovers the novel and, thinking it’s his, is transported – and insists he take it to an agent (the always brilliant Zelko Ivanek) at work (he’s mailroom supervisor). In no time at all, it’s a big success – critically and in sales. And here’s where the twist from the trailer comes in: the old man (Jeremy Irons) who actually wrote the book finds him and tells him no only that he write the book, but how it was that he came to write it – and that story unfolds onscreen (in sepia tones to distinguish the two, I guess).
To make matters even more complicated, this story within a story is being told by a narrator (Dennis Quaid) who is reading his new novel to a rapt university crowd – and attracts the attention of a gorgeous co-ed (Olivia Wilde). Is Rory’s story fiction? Is it a story of the narrator’s younger days?
I found The Words to be an intriguing technical exercise but the actual movie to be almost annoyingly predicable. You can see the story unfold in your mind several scenes before it appears onscreen and the dialogue is so clichéd that it completely undoes the intriguing premise.
Dennis Quaid and Olivia Wilde’s roles might have had more impact if they’d been played by lesser known actors, but Irons were very good and Cooper almost succeeds in giving Rory a personality. Poor Zoe Saldana had the most predictable role, but she did more with it than it deserved. Ben Barnes did well, considering he had no lines (or, maybe, that’s why he was so good…).
Other actors whose talents were wasted include: Ron Rifkin (the publisher who couldn’t publish Rory’s first novel), Michael McKean (an emcee at an awards dinner), J.K. Simmons (Rory’s dad), and John Hannah (whose role was such a waste I couldn’t remember it even as his name came up in the closing credits!).
Co-writers/co-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal not only ruin the effect of their premise with clunky dialogue and character development, their pacing is barely a notch above glacial. The cinematography is the best thing about The Words – the movie looks extremely good. The film’s ending is probably meant to look like a Hollywood happy ending, but have a nebulous, not quite real feel (the narrator’s life definitely went in another direction), but it just kind of lays there.
Like Black Swan (though it was a completely different kind of movie), when it was over, I was left thinking, really? That’s what you went with? What a pity. And oh, my aching back!
Final Grade: D+