“The Words”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Words” (CBS Films)


    Buried somewhere in this jumbled mess is the kernel of a provocative idea about ethics and plagiarism and the difference between fiction and reality. But it’s so convoluted and overtly pretentious that it inadvertently provokes laughter.

    The title refers to a new book written by Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), who is ‘reading’ excerpts to an assembled group of rapt aficionados in Manhattan, including a predatory Columbia University grad student (Olivia Wilde). Hammond begins by describing an ambitious young man, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), who yearns to be a great writer, like Ernest Hemingway. Struggling Rory is married to an adoring wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), who – on their honeymoon in Paris – buys him a battered briefcase. When they return home to Brooklyn and unbeknownst to Dora, Rory discovers it contains a yellowed, typewritten manuscript. Enraptured by the tragic, post-World War II love story of a U.S. soldier in Paris, Rory copies it – word for word – onto his laptop, prints it out and shows it to an agent at the talent agency where he works in the mailroom.  Almost overnight, it becomes “The Window Tears,” a literary sensation. One day, while sitting in Central Park, basking in his fame and fortune, Rory encounters a mysterious Old Man (Jeremy Irons), the manuscript’s real author, prompting Rory to almost have a nervous breakdown.

    Ineptly written and superficially directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, its platitude-filled story-within-a-story structure defies all logic and reasoning – while the historical flashbacks are ill-defined and repetitive. Not only are characters underwritten but they’re also not even remotely likeable. To describe Bradley Cooper’s interpretation of Rory as confused is an understatement; far from “The Hangover,” he seems completely bewildered and lost as he wanders from one scene into another. What saves this picture from total oblivion is Jeremy Irons’ intense, superbly nuanced performance, intoning profundities like, “We all make choices in life. The hard thing is living with them.”

    On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to10, “The Words” is a tiresome 3. As a romantic drama, it’s a dud.