The Words (CBS Films, PG-13)

thewords sqWriting about writers is very hard to pull off, and at this, the movie fails miserably.

 

thewords

The Words is a story within a story within a story—or, more specifically, a story within a story in which two stories come crashing together, to disastrous effect.

A couple of red flags are immediately obvious, the first being that writing about writers is very hard to pull off. Sure, writers create stories, and we like to be told stories. But when they write about themselves, it more often than not comes off with an inflated sense of self—in other words, we don’t care about your writer-characters nearly as much as you think we should.

Another problem with The Words is the frame in which it is told. As the film begins, we are watching best-selling writer Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) take the stage to great applause, whereupon he commences a reading of his latest novel. And the story he begins to tell? That of Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), a writer himself who, when we meet him, is en route to an awards dinner, where he will be greatly honored for his debut novel. The trouble is, he didn’t write it.

On a honeymoon trip to Paris with his new wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), Rory acquires a beat-up shoulder bag from an antique shop. Upon returning home, he finds a typewritten novel hiding in the bag, and immediately becomes obsessed with it. See where this is going? Of course you do.

As it so happens, an old man (Jeremy Irons), also living in New York, wrote the book over 50 years ago. And lost it. And lost his beautiful French wife because of it. And never wrote again. And has a bleak, bitter life.

Again, you see where this is going. After the book’s publication, the old man follows Rory to the park, whereupon he corners him and begins to tell the younger charlatan his story. Not the story he had written in his long-lost novel, but the story of his sad, sorry life. And Rory sits on the bench next to him, rapt, listening to the old man’s tale from beginning to end. I don’t know about you, but I think I would run away in shame, not egg the old man on.

As the old man reveals the sorry trajectory of his life as a result of the novel, we are smacked upside the head, with the film screaming “Foreshadowing alert!” Yep; guess what’s going to happen next.

Through all this, Hammond occasionally comes back to the screen, still reading parts of his book. (How long is this reading anyway? He apparently reads fully two-thirds of the book to a sold-out room of adoring fans. I hope they brought their jammies and warm milk.

Here’s the part that sums it all up, that is both very good in theory but ultimately fails as just another literary device. While Hammond is reading, we see young grad student Daniella watching him raptly from the audience. Is she going home with him tonight? You betcha.

Yet no sexual contact ever occurs, not even a kiss; instead, Daniella reveals herself to be a foil for Hammond, demanding to know how the book ends (wouldn’t an uber-admirer such as herself have already read the damn thing?). She then argue with him, rewriting his story with the way she feels it “really” ends.

By the time the line, “Don’t you know words ruin everything?” is spoken, we are far, far beyond caring about any of these characters, to say nothing of the over-written production we have just endured. They’re wrong, of course; words are everything. That is, unless they are used to continually remind us how smart the scriptwriter is, and how stupid we are by comparison. By then, we’ve stopped listening. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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