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Words, words, words

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The Words' offers story-within-a-story-within-a-story

As a lover of the written word, I was intrigued when I first heard about 'The Words.' The idea of a movie built around the nature of authorship and the siren's song of literary fame and fortune sounded pretty good to me. But then a simple, fundamental question occurred to me - can they actually make this interesting?

For me at least, the answer was 'yes.'

First, our framing story: Famous author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid, 'What to Expect When You're Expecting') is giving a reading of his newest novel 'The Words' at some black-tie affair or another. In between readings, in comes Daniella (Olivia Wilde, TV's 'House'), a Columbia grad student with a healthy interest in Hammond and his work.

The main body of the film, however, is the story that Hammond is telling during this reading.

Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper, 'Hit and Run') is a struggling young writer living in Brooklyn, getting by with a little financial assist from his dad (J.K. Simmons, 'Contraband') and the love and support of his girlfriend Dora (Zoe Saldana, 'Columbiana'). However, he simply can't find anyone to publish his work. He winds up marrying Dora and taking a job in the mail room of a publishing house.

On their Paris honeymoon, Dora catches Rory eyeing an old satchel in a secondhand shop and buys it for him. Upon their return, Rory discovers a yellowed manuscript inside it. After reading it, he is confronted by his own inadequacies as a writer. Wanting to feel words that powerful flow through him, Rory retypes the story line for line, mark for mark. He even leaves in the typos.

Dora reads the story and believes it to be Rory's work. Her reaction renders him unable to confess that the words aren't his. He allows himself to be talked into giving it to one of his bosses to read.

You can probably see where this is going.

'Window Tears' by Rory Jansen becomes a massive critical and commercial smash, turning its 'author' into a literary sensation. Rory has it all until the Old Man (Jeremy Irons, TV's 'The Borgias') shows up. What happens when the true source of the words re-enters the picture?

'The Words' is essentially a movie about a book about a book; an enjoyable film, but not without flaws. The framing device feels a bit forced at times; Quaid's lecherous attempted seduction of Wilde in particular seems off. In this world, writers are either literary luminaries or utter failures there is no in-between. Pat explanations are offered for wild coincidences. There's a fair amount of deliberate ambiguity. And overall, the movie just isn't as heady and thought-provoking as it believes itself to be.

Despite those imperfections, there's a fair amount to like. There are some good performances; Cooper and Quaid provide a nice balance of amiable handsomeness while still bringing a little bit of depth. Saldana and Wilde are good as well, albeit as mostly glorified window dressing. However, Irons absolutely dominates the screen with each scene; the pain of his past has left scars and he is sadly gnarled, but his strength resonates regardless. He'll be in line for a little gold statue or two.

And as a morality tale, a story of finding out what we're truly capable of, 'The Words' mostly works. It's not necessarily the tour de force the filmmakers thought they were making, but it's still a movie about books. As such, I'll take it.

3 out of 5

Last modified on Thursday, 20 September 2012 12:42

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