You can’t expect much from Hollywood these days. But with all the remakes, sequels, book adaptations and even board game adaptations, you’d hope that studios would try and come up with something original, even if the conflict is something that happens much too often. But that’s the issue with the film, “The Words,” produced by CBS Films. It imitates its protagonist by failing to come up with something original. Instead, it tries too hard for its own good.
Dennis Quaid (“Footloose”) narrates the film as Clay Hammond, an acclaimed author reading from his latest novel in a packed house with his semi-stalker grad student (Olivia Wilde, “The Change-Up”) clinging on to his every word. He tells the story of Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper, “The Hangover”): a handsome, well-dressed, yet struggling writer in his 30’s trying to make a name for himself in the world of publishing.
While honeymooning in lavish Paris, Rory learns that the novel he had been working on for three years will not be published. Ironically, the literary agent tells him his novel is “too artistic and subtle” (something the film fails to be) to be published with any success. However, when Rory’s wife Dora (Zoe Saldana, “Colombiana”) purchases him a worn leather briefcase, Rory finds it contains a manuscript which he soon publishes as his own. He instantly becomes an overnight literary sensation.
His success is endangered when Rory meets the man behind the manuscript (Jeremy Irons,“The Borgias”). Irons eloquently plays the man who can’t receive credit for his work, let alone a name, merely referred to as the “Old Man.” The film then dives into yet another narrative of the Old Man’s tragic post-WWII love story—reenacted nicely in vignettes by Ben Barnes (“The Chronicles of Narnia”)—which sadly happen to be the only genuine and sympathetic part of the 90-minute film.
In its mediocre endeavor for ingenuity, the film underestimates the aptitude of the audience when Wilde’s character throws all potential subtlety out the window and spits out possible endings to Rory and Dora’s life while trying to force a relationship with Clay. When he stops reciprocating, it becomes transparent that the character of Rory is based on himself.
The triple story within a story device proves to be more annoying than clever, but more importantly, it hinders the audience’s relationships with the characters. Perhaps if the writers and directors, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, focused on character building and chemistry, we could have better understood Rory’s motivations and actions, as reprehensible as they were.
While the directors of “The Words,” try to make the film as thought-provoking and riveting as possible, they fall short of their ambitions with the complex and unnecessary narrative technique. Perhaps if they took a simpler yet sophisticated approach, they could have better obtained the supportive feelings of the audience they had hoped for.
Stories of plagiarism are not uncommon, so the film doesn’t go out on a limb with its conventional premise. With its fine cast and the compelling concept of the price of success, you can’t help but watch to discover what happens to the ill-fated protagonist.