A jumble of meaningless “Words”

the words

The Words

dir. Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal

Release Date: Sep 07, 12

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Too frequently, in a movie or show centered around a creative property within it, that property isn’t of sufficient quality to sustain the larger story. For instance, on the short-lived TV series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the sketch comedy series within the show wasn’t nearly funny enough to feel reflective of a program that could exist on NBC in real life. Likewise, the hilariously overwritten novel at the center of The Words, The Window’s Tears, is so blatantly melodramatic that one of the film’s biggest logic holes comes from the clamor over the novel by supposedly legitimate publishers. The biggest hole is the majority of the narrative, a terribly generic story wrapped in a layered screenwriting conceit that takes little time to figure out and even less time to see through.

Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling writer working for the mailroom of a publisher, one of those soulful artist types who eats at high-end New York restaurants and lives in a charmingly run-down loft despite his supposed borderline poverty. His wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) is likewise the perfect picture of saintly background womanhood, primarily around to have sex with Rory and tell him how great a writer he is whenever he comes to doubt himself, which is fairly often. Their relatively perfect lives are upset when, on their honeymoon, Rory happens upon a weathered attaché containing a manuscript for a heartbreaking novel about an American soldier stationed in Paris during World War II. Despite Rory’s best efforts, that novel alone convinces him that all of his writing is worthless, leading him to plagiarize his find and profit from it. Of course, conveniently enough, a random old man (Jeremy Irons) is also living in New York, and discovers that The Window’s Tears contains some very familiar subject matter.

I haven’t even mentioned the story within that story, the visual representation of The Window’s Tears as retold by the old man halfway in. Or how both stories I’ve outlined so far are folded within a third story, as Rory’s story is actually part of a novel written by Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), a successful author who reads parts of his new novel aloud, setting the rest of the film in motion. He’s also beset by a comely grad student (Olivia Wilde) who’s interested in the secrets behind Clay’s success. It only takes a few minutes of the film (or, if you advisably save yourself $10, a few viewings of the trailer) to figure out exactly where The Words is headed. Screenplay trickery aside, the film does little to keep you invested, with Rory working through trite observations one after the next until a supposed twist involving Quaid’s omniscient writer that will surprise virtually nobody.

That’s no fault of Cooper, who gives as committed a performance as he can to some seriously stiff material. He and Saldana also manage way more chemistry than they really should; you’d be forgiven for forgetting that they’re supposed to be married for most of the film. Irons can do wistful in his sleep, but he gives the old man (unnamed throughout) a bit more depth than expected. When he sits Rory down to tell him his version of the story, his reasons for doing so are the film’s most surprising aspect, and also oddly moving. What’s most upsetting about The Words, beside its total misuse of a quality cast, is that it really has no reason to exist. It makes points about regret and failure, the common trials of the struggling writer and the importance of being honest (yes, we’re talking that level of rote) without saying anything new about them. This is just a lot of well-worn territory, told very slightly out of sequence. Plus, as the old man says, “What the hell is a window’s tear anyway?”