Books and films typically cross paths when a novel is adapted for the big screen. But in The Words, the relationship between literature and cinema is much more intimate.
It’s a movie about a book about an author writing a book about a writer. Or something like that. And apparently it’s not based on a book, or another movie, or a book about movies, or a writer of books or movies.
If it all sounds convoluted, that might be by design in this pretentious melodrama about a famous writer wracked with guilt when confronted with allegations of plagiarism.
The movie opens with famous author Clay (Dennis Quaid) reading his book aloud to an audience. As he becomes the narrator, his book unfolds as a chronicle of Rory (Bradley Cooper), a fledgling young writer who wants to make it big as a way of impressing his father (J.K. Simmons) and supporting his wife (Zoe Saldana).
Rory’s first novel is deemed brilliant but too intellectual for publishers to consider. Frustrated, he discovers an anonymous old manuscript and figures if he can use it to bait publishers, then his own work will put him on the map. He takes credit for the work, which receives critical acclaim and becomes a best-seller, without considering the potential unscrupulous consequences.
The film, written and directed by rookie filmmakers Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, constantly jumps between its various narratives, using multiple narrators and points of view. The storytelling method is more compelling than the actual stories themselves, however, which meander toward a collective final plot twist that is foreshadowed well in advance.
The script touches on some potentially worthwhile issues along the way, such as the convergence of art and commerce, the boundaries of ethics and fame, and the creative process in general.
Cooper effectively conveys a writer whose emotional turmoil turns into borderline paranoia, even though his arrogance makes him more of a villain than the conflicted hero the film wants him to be. Jeremy Irons generously underplays the pivotal role of an old man haunted by tragic memories of his past.
The Words doesn’t offer much insight or surprise into its subject, opting to be more manipulative than provocative. As films about the writing process go, it’s hardly a page-turner.
Rated PG-13, 96 minutes.