“The Words” is a nested film with three intertwined stories about writers and as such will be followed with rapt attention by any writer in the audience. Whether anyone else will be interested in a movie filled with good intentions but whirring on empty, I’m not sure.
For starters, Montreal once again trying to pass off as Paris once again feels off. But then, the entire movie—by first-timers Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal—feels off. It skims the surface, touches on the pain and suffering of writers, would-be writers, could-be writers, writers whose work was stolen and those who stole it, and yet another writer, the one who writes about all of the above. Bradley Cooper, a dish with the bluest eyes, plays Rory Jansen, an aspiring novelist with a gorgeous wife (Zoe Saldana) who believes in him, so much so that when she reads by chance a manuscript that he has stolen word for word, she doesn’t doubt that he wrote it. Queue Jeremy Irons, under a botched aging makeup job. Several decades ago, the character he plays was a young Hemingway type in Paris. He fell in love, got married, had and lost a child, and wrote a novel in fifteen days, in a trance that didn’t leave him until he typed the word “end.” The resulting manuscript is now found by Jansen on his honeymoon in Paris, regurgitated as his own, and puts him on a trajectory as New York’s new literary darling. This entire story is actually the subject of a novel by a third writer, Clay Hammond, overplayed by Dennis Quaid sporting a tan that surely sent George Hamilton running for the nearest high-pressure bed.
That is the movie in a nutshell, less complicated to follow than it sounds, and mainly an occasion for much clichéd rhetoric (fiction as a metaphor for life, making choices and living with them, etc. etc.) and soaring music. “The Words,” not nearly thought through, holds a kernel of promising material that unfortunately never delivers.
The fact remains that, to a writer, any story about a writer, be it on film or stage or paper, is fascinating. The thought, once it popped into my head, wouldn’t let go, and had me wondering whether painters could be as obsessed by other painters and dancers by other dancers. But that’s another story, to be told some day by a stronger team.