Monday, August 19, 2013

The Words

Directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal.
2012. Rated PG-13,
Michael McKean
James Babson
Lucinda Davis

The Words is essentially a film within a film depicting a book within a book. We meet author Clay Hammond (Quaid) as he goes on stage to read a few excerpts from his latest novel which shares its title with the movie we’re watching. It’s about a young struggling writer named Rory (Cooper) who is married to Dora (Saldana), the love of his life, and has dedicated himself to his craft. However, despite some positive feedback, no one is actually willing to publish his books. One day, he happens to find an amazing manuscript, anonymously written. He passes it off as his own and gets it published to rave reviews. It not only becomes a best seller, but wins him a prestigious award. Things are all hunky dory until “The Old Man” (Irons) shows up and lets him know his secret isn't so safe. Meanwhile, in the “real” world, Clay is hit on during intermissions by Daniella (Wilde), a groupie/aspiring writer half his age.

Eventually, The Old Man in Clay’s story also has a tale to tell. At this point, we’re watching a movie about a guy who wrote a book about another guy listening to a story told by yet another guy. I’m reminded of that line by Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder, “I’m a dude that’s playing a dude that’s playing another dude.” Something like that. Remarkably, all the moving parts maintain their own identities while working in conjunction with one another. There is a lot going on, but it doesn't feel cluttered. Each section carves out its own niche and develops its own conflict to be resolved. Somehow, The Words still gets out of our hair in barely more than an hour and a half.

While Bradley Cooper flashes his movie starness, and Dennis Quaid is his old reliable self, and Zoe Saldana is sufficiently loving, concerned, and upset (in that order), it’s Jeremy Irons that makes us watch. His character is the linchpin holding it all together, and he still has more than enough presence to hold down the position. It is another fabulous performance in a long line of them by the actor.

Unfortunately, Irons proves to be better than the material he’s working with, making us care about it more than we would otherwise. It struggles under the weight of so many premises. I don’t think it becomes a bad movie, just not a fulfilling one. However, it does raise some interesting questions. Ironically, the most intriguing of them is in regards to the least interesting story, the one involving Quaid and Wilde. That question is whether or not his novel is auto-biographical. After all, he’s a renowned writer with a few best-sellers under his belt, but very cagey when pressed on the issue. The movie never really gives an answer, either. Therefore, when the credits roll, it’s the conversation piece left behind.

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