Review: 'The Words' goes deep

Movie gets bound up in its own self consciousness

By Michelle F. Solomon, Contributing writer
POSTED: 08:56 AM PDT Sep 07, 2012 
Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana in The Words

"The Words" is a thoughtful movie, so cerebral in its musings that many times it's easy to get lost in the story. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing will be up to the individual.

Bradley Cooper plays Rory Jansen, a writer who is desperate to become the next great American novelist and darling of the New York Times bestseller list. He has the support of his loving fiancée (the stunningly beautiful Zoë Saldana), who doesn't mind that they sleep in a small studio apartment in Manhattan, and that he has to borrow money from his dad when they can't make ends meet.

She has faith that he will become a literary legend. In fact, she has more faith in him than he has in himself. Despite their penniless existence, one day they get married in a City Hall ceremony and take a honeymoon to Paris (it's not known if Dad paid for that trip or not). While strolling through an antiques shop, Rory comes across a tucked away briefcase. His wife buys it for him. "We'll clean it up and you can use it for your work," she says. What he discovers in hidden away in this treasure is his ticket to fame -- a manuscript that really is the Great American Novel, a World-War II era story about a young war recruit in Paris and the French woman he meets and eventually marries. The author's inspiration and perspiration is better than anything that Rory could muster. It's Hemingway-esque and worthy of publication. When his wife sneaks a peek into his computer, she can't put the book down and comes away with full-blown tears in her eyes. She urges him to show it to an agent, who, of course, loves it, too.

The film layers story upon story - there's Rory's story, and the young war recruit's; there's also the story of Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), the current literary darling who, in voiceover, tells us the story of what happened to Rory Jansen. You see, Hammond has written a bestselling book, "The Words," about Jansen's rise and fall. When the movie opens, he's reading to a packed house in an auditorium at Columbia University. Then there's a subplot that evolves involving an aspiring writer and graduate student (Olivia Wilde) who has her eyes set on the dashing author and won't let up until she gets an invite back to his fabulous two-story modern Manhattan apartment, where they share a bottle of Bordeaux.

Of course, there's the catalyst of the story -- The Old Man (Jeremy Irons). Turns out that he's the former young war recruit who is now living in Upstate New York. It so happens that he started reading a copy of "The Window Tears" by Rory Jansen and realized this was the story he had written while living in Paris. He heads to New York to find Jansen and confront him.
"We all make choices in life and we all have to live with them," The Old Man tells the now famous writer. "And there ain't no one that can help you with that."

The movie takes on an entirely different tone when Irons, craggily with a scruffy beard, is on screen. His Old Man is full of depth and worth the price of admission. Irons' delivery in telling the story of the young recruit's days in Paris brings life to the words. It's actually a shame, in a way, that he doesn't have a better foundation in which to support his fine performance.
The story itself seems plucked from a tossed away manuscript by Nicholas Sparks' with its constant barrage of soul-searching dialogue.
"You have a choice between life and fiction," Clay Hammond tells his paramour. There's a choice, too, with "The Words." Like a favorite book on tape, "The Words" as a movie offers a choice: Sit back and enjoy the story, or try to find some profound meaning in it.