Cerebral romance ‘The Words’ tries just a little too hard
By V.R. BryantPosted Sep 12, 2012
It's sad when it happens: everything is good, everything is working, and then one little thing comes along and f*cks it all up.
Happens all the time, in lots of different circumstances. You're eating a delicious meal, and all of a sudden you encounter a fingernail or a pubic hair.
You're hosting a party, having a wonderful time, and some idiot throws up all over your dog.
Or, you're watching a movie, and everything is good and interesting, and the writers decide to keep pestering you with an inane and unnecessary subplot that turns an otherwise smooth production into a broken, oily mess.
Such is “The Words,” a film with three different and (kind of) separate storylines that all contain elements of romance, tragedy and betrayal. I ordinarily don't go into too great detail, but in order to adequately explain why this movie fails, I'm afraid I must.
I'll start with what I feel ought to have been the main plot: Rory (Bradley Cooper) is a young writer with lots of ambition and a very attractive and patient girlfriend (Zoe Saldana). Rory slaves over his work for three solid years, receiving one rejection letter after another from publishers. His book is too 'subtle,' too inaccessible to take a gamble on, they say.
One day, Rory marries his little Dora and the couple honeymoons in Paris. While there, Dora cutely, but casually, pulls Rory into yet another adorable antique shop. He comes fatefully upon an old leather portfolio, loves it instantly, and Dora buys it.
Some time later, as Rory is sitting around feeling sorry for himself, he happens across a previously undiscovered compartment within the portfolio. Within it is a typewritten manuscript. He reads it. And, you're led to believe, it is one of the finest books ever written.
So enamored with the book, and so devastated by how inferior his own work is, Rory types the book out into his word processor verbatim, just so he can feel the words flow through his fingers. Or some bullsh*t like that.
At this point, the rest of the film is pretty telegraphed. His wife reads his copy from his laptop, she's as floored as he was but thinks he wrote it, demands he submit it to publishers believing that he wrote it. So he does, and everyone else believes it too, and he becomes rich and famous.
Now, the other plot. In 1940s Paris, after the war, a young soldier meets and falls in love with a girl. They have a daughter. The infant dies, his wife freaks out, and the sorrow of the ordeal forces this beautiful piece of writing out of him. He mails it to his estranged wife who agrees to return. She places the manuscript in a lovely new leather portfolio and... leaves it on the train. Of course, the man can't ever duplicate the work, resents her for losing it and they split up anyway.
This book is of course the book that Rory finds and publishes. The author, now an old man (Jeremy Irons), tracks him down, everything comes tumbling apart. There is much crying, screaming. Everything works. It's a perfectly good story.
Until, that is, you include the third, final and sh*ttiest of the three plots. Dennis Quaid plays an aging writer reading his book aloud to an audience that includes an obnoxiously forward graduate student (Olivia Wilde) who — in the real world — is 30 years his junior. Apart from the fact that the two of them getting physical is repulsive, their interactions are trite and tawdry and do not fit with the tenor of the other two plots.
In the end, they dangle the idea that there's some relative connection between Quaid and Cooper's characters: a story within a story within...whatever.
All of that to say that what you have here is a nice little drama with some very good acting (Irons is particularly good) wrapped up inside some very bland, very foolhardy wrapping paper. Take Quaid and Wilde out of this picture, and you would have had something worth watching.