The Words Review


Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal—the writing-directing duo behind The Words—go through such pains to make their film (which is about novelists) feel like a novel that it loses sense of its more cinematic qualities. The Words moves at a glacial pace. It’s overwritten. Its stately score and incredibly formal look make the entire exercise feel almost inhuman. Basically, the film needed to be more dynamic, even a bit messier. It might keep your interest because its concept is inherently compelling, but it’s hard to imagine the film leaving much of a positive impression on anyone.

The film’s structure is a bit complicated, but the proceedings start with Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), a successful author who’s holding a private reading of his latest novel, The Words. The story Clay tells his audience serves as the bulk of the film. His novel is about a young author—Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper). We first meet Rory as he’s accepting a major writing award, but Clay quickly takes us five years back in Rory’s life. He’s moving into a Brooklyn apartment with his adoring girlfriend, Dora (Zoe Saldana). His personal life is perfect, but professionally, he’s floundering.

Rory can write; He just needs someone to cut him a break. In the meantime, he and Zoe struggle to make ends meet. In spite of all this, they get married and travel to Paris. While there, he buys a swank briefcase in a vintage shop. Inside it is, for Rory’s money, the most moving, beautifully written manuscript he’s ever laid eyes on. He recreates it on his computer (for no reason, in particular, except to advance the plot along), and Dora understandably mistakes it for his own writing. So Rory rolls with it, becomes a huge success, and ultimately, must deal with the consequences of his actions when the story’s real author (Jeremy Irons) comes calling.

It’s easy to blame much of the failure of The Words on its structure. Every time we exit the primary storyline (with Rory and Dora) to spend time with Clay and his new female companion, Daniella (a totally wasted Olivia Wilde), The Words loses a ton of momentum. These passages, ultimately, serve a purpose, but excepting our final scene with them (which involves a revelation you’ll see coming a mile away), they’re totally static and grind this reasonably involving film to an instant halt.

That said, this structure is far from The Words‘ only problem. Bradley Cooper sleepwalks his way through the part of Rory. Gone, thankfully, is the cocky energy he’s become associated with afterWedding Crashers and The Hangover. But he’s replaced it with a closed-off stoicism that doesn’t serve a film this melodramatic well at all.

Zoe Saldana is a little better, but her role is a little underdeveloped. She has a great scene relatively early in the film when she encourages Rory to show “his story” to a publisher, saying she sees beautiful qualities in the writing she didn’t know Rory had. As it turns out, he doesn’t, but she’s as much in the dark as the rest of the world, and Klugman and Sternthal hint at the possibility that Rory only goes forward with the big lie because of Dora’s inadvertently hurtful admission. If they explored that further (to be fair, it does briefly come up again later in the film), Saldana might have had more to chew on.

From a craft perspective, The Words is fine—competent, but unremarkable. The score (by Marcelo Zarvos) is classy and fits the upper-class (but only just) world these individuals populate. The editing, too, is impressive insomuch as there are quite a few stories within a story, and not once will you lose track of what’s going on.

Klugman and Sternthal are first-time directors, but for their rookie effort, they’ve developed a premise that sounds like it couldn’t miss. The film, sadly, is both inert and distant, making it damn near impossible to feel anything about The Words other than disappointment over its squandered potential.

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