daniel cohen looks at the literary drama…
Plot: Told from the perspective of a famous author (Dennis Quaid) as he shares his upcoming novel about a struggling novelist (Bradley Cooper) who writes a phenomenal success based on a lost manuscript he didn’t actually write.
If you sat down long enough, I still don’t think you could come up with a more boring title than The Words. Really…the words? Because that’s why people go to the movies…for the words. I could probably drag this joke out a little longer, but the movie is thankfully more interesting than its lackluster title. It’s a solid story with solid acting that unfortunately falls apart at the end, but we’ll get there.
We start out with Bradley Cooper’s character Rory Jansen, who’s really just the character in Clay Hammond’s (Dennis Quaid) book. It’s a simple set-up – Rory is a poor writer living in New York City with his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana). I actually would have preferred for this just to be about a writer struggling to make it, which it is for the first act. But once Rory finds the manuscript and steals it, the film turns into something very different…a mediocre movie.
One of the reasons I wanted the film to focus on just the writer is because of how much I enjoyed Bradley Cooper’s acting. Cooper surprises me in that I always think he’s going to give a bad performance, but he’s sneaky good, just like in last year’s Limitless. His character is very likable, even after he does some not so good things. He carries the movie pretty well, but the film is still chock-full of good performances. I like the random J.K. Simmons appearance, Jeremy Irons provides the empathy, and Dennis Quaid even gives a layered charismatic outing as the author. The one person who kind of phoned it in though was Zoe Saldana. She just seemed off, and didn’t even try to have chemistry with Bradley Cooper. This was a very weak character all around.
The main problem I have with this film though is when it moves away from the Bradley Cooper/Dennis Quaid story, and goes into the backstory of the missing manuscript that once belonged to Jeremy Irons’ character as we explore his past as a young man played by Ben Barnes. It’s very ‘meh,’ with a predictable tragic shoehorned in backstory. There’s also a major plot device as to how this manuscript gets lost that is really silly. Without spoiling anything, it essentially revolves around a huge brain fart that unfortunately comes off as really funny, and it’s not supposed to be at all. I guess they were trying to go for the irony of, ‘hey, everything spiraled out of control because of one little mistake,’ but the film plays it up as too epic.
Despite a series of boring flashbacks, the main plot of Cooper playing out the story, and Quaid telling it kept me engaged. Olivia Wilde also has a nice appearance here, playing an admirer of Quaid. These two had much better chemistry than Cooper and Saldana.
It’s unfortunate the end has no real resolution. The script has no idea what it wants to say as it literally rambles on for the last 15-20 minutes. It succeeds in that it has you sympathizing with both Quaid and Cooper at the end, but other than that, the story just happens, and I wasn’t really sure what to feel overall. The Words is an intriguing story, but in the end, there’s no point to it.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly Better than ‘meh’)