"The Words" suffers from exactly that - its words. A gorgeously made film, this triptych of a story is so complicated in its simplicity that you keep waiting for the big reveal only to find out any "secret" the filmmakers are keeping, you actually knew from the start. So after waiting for an hour and a half for some monumental "aha," the film simply fades to black.
The film by writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal first revolves around one Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) a highly successful author who has written a book (coincidentally called "The Words") that has garnered him much acclaim. At a book reading, he begins to read a portion of the story that features a struggling writer named Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) who struggles to make ends meet with girlfriend Dora (Zoe Saldana). Since he was broke and had to borrow money from his father (played by J.K. Simmons), he then takes a mailroom job at a literary agency.
It’s a bit of a shock to see the two take their honeymoon in Paris. (With his salary?) Regardless, during a stop in an old antique store, Rory finds an old attaché case and Dora buys it for him. Once back at home in New York, Rory is putting some of his own work inside the case only to find a secret compartment that contains a decades-old manuscript that he didn’t know was in there. (Really?) And within about two hours, he has read the entire story and his eyes are filled with tears.
For some reason, he never mentions his find to his wife. He never once thinks to say, "OMG, honey, look what I found in the attaché you bought me in Paris!" Instead, he realizes he can’t get the story out of his head and in the middle of the night, something overtakes him and he decides to type the entire story out on his computer exactly as it was written on the manuscript. This takes one evening. Are we clear? He reads the entire novel in a few hours and retypes it in about the same amount of time.
A few days later he comes home to find his wife in tears. Why? Because she accidentally found the recently typed book on her hubby’s computer and read it. In an afternoon. (Clearly, it’s the shortest novel ever written.) She convinces him that it is the best work he’s ever done and that he should show it to someone at the agency. She feels it represents deeply who he is inside. (Gosh, she sure does know her husband well.) So instead of actually telling his own wife that she’s made a mistake, he allows the gaffe and passes the work off as his own.
As the trailer will show, Rory becomes an overnight success as a result and his dreams come true. That is, until he meets The Old Man (Jeremy Irons.)
Here we cut back to Hammond reading from his book where he has told this entire part of his story and, still at his book reading, takes a break before continuing Part Two. Mind you, his book is huge and, if the movie is to be believed, he’s reading the entire thing. The problem (other than that) is that his narrative is pedestrian at best. Quite simply, his writing is horrible. How did he become such a success? It’s so simplistic it’s like reading a second rate "Twilight" novel . Yikes!
Furthermore, if I’m a fan of an author’s work, a selection here and there is fine, but do I need to hear the entire book? And when a superfan shows up (late) to the reading in the form of Danielle (Olivia Wilde) we wonder: how are you such a fan of Clay Hammond that you haven’t even read his book yet? She allegedly knows all about him and is clearly there to seduce him, yet she’s never cracked his new novel. Because eventually, she will ask him to tell her how it ends.
But in the meantime, The Old Man has to reveal that Rory’s book is his. This is done by not only repeating the story that Rory has just made into an international best-seller, but what happens after, which allows the audience to see what Rory’s book was all about and why it was so moving. Yet, why would The Old Man repeat the story that Rory clearly already knows? It’s not to convince Rory that it’s his own life, because he has already admitted to reading it. So why he would tell this story again makes no sense, except in lazy movie story-telling.
The bigger problem? The story is not that moving. It involves a romance and the death of a child. That’s it. Why is this story something that moved a world of readers? I don’t know. What we do know is Rory feels guilty and things go kind of downhill for him. Cut back to Hammond who will eventually tell Danielle what the story all means. Kind of. You see, the one "twist" in the film is something I assumed from the beginning. So while I waited for some other surprise or revelation or reason for there to be three stories that are all fairly benign, nothing ever comes. The film just ends. I was left confused. I didn’t know what was real or not real. I wasn’t sure what it all meant except for the very obvious. Nor could I get past the fact that this guy’s book was so poorly written.
Sadly, I wanted to like this film and at first, I was totally with it. But as it went on and on, the dialogue got worse and worse, and the story got complicated yet not complicated, I grew frustrated. At 97 minutes, the film feels much longer. Cooper is fine here and Saldana has a few nice moments. Quaid still has that odd inflection that makes his speech patterns unnatural and sometimes unintentionally humorous. Irons is nicely controlled, but there is a bit of overacting here that surprised me from such a seasoned actor. It’s too bad because there is so much to like and the Philip Glass inspired score by Marcelo Zarvos is gorgeous. But ultimately "The Words" is too simple to be moving and too generic to be interesting.