Review: The Words

Poignant. Touching. Complex. These are words that do not describe The Words, at all. If your goal is to feel something from this film, you should watch the trailer again, close your eyes and try to visualize the great movie that such an interesting story could have become. With plagiarism and literary ethics as a hot topic during the last decade, one would think that a brilliant film could have developed from such an intriguing premise. However, The Words tries to enter this discussion by asking whether a man can live with his decision to steal another man’s life.

At the beginning we are introduced to a visually appealing, but ultimately boring couple, Rory and Dora. Rory (Bradley Cooper) is an aspiring writer who is unable to get his breakout novel published, despite the fact that he works at a literary agency. At his side is his beautiful and spirited wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana) – who, though a bit over-indulgent, is the perfect mate. While on her honeymoon in Paris, Dora buys a leather satchel for Rory, which, unbeknownst to her, contains an unpublished manuscript based on the story of someone’s life.  The Cooper-Saldana pairing is bland and uninteresting. Perhaps they would have been more interesting if the movie’s sound had been turned off. Even more annoying is when you realize that the story promised in the trailer is completely false.

Forget everything you thought you knew about The Words. In actuality, it is a movie about a man who wrote a story about a man who wrote a story based on the story of another man’s life. Feel free to take a moment to process this.  Try to think of this film as the real-life manifestation of the 2010 film, Inception, because it is never revealed to the viewers what, if anything is actually real. So in this sense, The Words is a meta-film which focuses on the story of an author named Clay (Dennis Quaid), his failing relationship with his wife and his tawdry affair with a young student named Daniela (Olivia Wilde). We learn nothing much from this story at all, save the fact that Dennis Quaid’s character prefers the company of hot coeds to that of his middle-aged wife – go figure! What you go into the movie thinking is the real story, actually becomes the secondary plot, and the stolen life story/love story becomes the tertiary plot, and the time spent on each tale is not equal. It is not at all as complicated as it may sound as the screenwriters, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal make the appropriate period changes, and make it clear which writer is center stage at each moment. Most of the film is spent on the tertiary story, which takes place in France in the 1940s. Even then, the story is replete with clichés and illogical progressions of events, which actually make it easy to understand how the book becomes a bestseller.

The tertiary story is about a man and a woman, introduced only as The Young Man (Ben Barnes), eventually called The Old Man (Jeremy Irons) – please note the mid-movie actor switch – and the love of his life, Celia (Nora Arnezeder). Theirs is the kind of the old fashioned Hollywood tale that involves the audience most of all. The Young Man is stationed in France in the final days of World War II where he falls in love with Celia, who at the time is working as a waitress. They get married soon after and have a daughter, but the baby dies shortly after birth, which inexplicably bankrupts the couple. Unable to cope with the loss, Celia leaves the Man and moves to her parents’ house. The Man then uses his pain as inspiration to write the manuscript, which he sends to Celia in a briefcase, convincing her to return to him. However, she forgets the briefcase in the train after her trip back to Paris, and the manuscript is lost. When The Man finds out about her negligence and he leaves her, in anger.

The only entertainment value of this film comes from the star cast. We get to see a lot of popular actors and actresses (Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde and Jeremy Irons) together on-screen. Both the screenplay and the directors don’t help Olivia Wilde and of the men, Cooper gives the least interesting performance of the primary roles. The Words is a good love story but fails to present the dilemma of the plagiarist or the writer and never quite addresses the ethical question of cheating. It leaves nothing to the imagination, smothering all these storylines in narration that spells out the actions we’re seeing or emotions we could infer for ourselves. In addition to this, all of the characters themselves are totally predicable, from the scruffy, starving writer in his spare Brooklyn loft, to the blandly selfless and supportive wife, to the wide-eyed, small-town soldier seeing the world for the first time. Though predicated on an interesting concept, it is ultimately a very shallow movie.

Whitney Lee ’14 (whitneylee@college) doesn’t really have a lot to look forward to right now and was hoping to see a good movie.

  • Pumpkin Pie

    This could have been a great movie — but it was so convoluted that I was left feeling like I’d been hit by a bookmobile? I never saw anything of Clay’s (Quaid) wife, nor did it explain that Wilde was his girlfriend. This movie should have stuck to it’s explanation — about a man who plagerizes someone else’s work and deals with the consequences. Quaid and Wilde could have/should have disappeared.
    Shame because Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Irons were wonderful together. I agree that Cooper and Soldana lacked any connection.

  • Lori

    I disagree with the recent posts. I thought the movie left people thinking about the choices you make in life and the master line by Jeromy Irons, ” We all make our choices in life. The hard thing is to live with them’” says it all.

  • Cardion

    I also disagree with the posts. Simple, yet profound – the point of the movie is no matter what choices you make, you must live with them. And you, and you alone, is the only one that has to face those decisions.