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The Words

The Words: Half-Hearted Literary Melodrama

  • Bradley CooperDennis Quaid...
  • DramaRomance
  • Brian KlugmanLee Sternthal
reviewed by
Marija Loncarevic
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The Words: Half-Hearted Literary Melodrama
The idea behind The Words, co-written and directed by first-time filmmakers and good friends, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, was to draw focus on the intellectual expertise and literary achievement.  Sadly, forgetting where it’s coming from and where it’s going, The Words makes a very contradictive statement.  Heaping narratives over narratives over narratives, this scrawny melodrama delivers absolutely nothing; making The Words possibly one of the worst films of the year.

The Words drags itself out over a three-part structure.  It opens with distinguished and self-centred author, Clay Hammond (Quaid), reading passages from his novel, titled, ‘The Words’. 

His story follows a stardom-starved writer, Rory Jensen (Cooper), who struggles to get anything done and cannot seem to get anything published. His work is often described as too ‘interior’ and too ‘subtle’, Rory is in a desperate need of a miracle.

His luck soon changes, when he comes across an old, unmarked manuscript hidden in the lining of a worn-out leathery bag bought in an antique store.  It was love at first sight and Rory, on an impulse, re-types the ‘compelling’ story on his laptop. 

The trouble begins, when his more financially sound wife Dara (Saldana) stumbles upon the story and mistakes it for her husband’s. Rory, no longer a pathetic-excuse-for-a-writer in his wife’s eyes, sends the story to a publishing agency.  Big surprise, the book is a hit and Rory quickly becomes an overnight best-selling sensation.
 
Rory’s world soon comes crashing down though, when he meets a mysterious, nameless, elderly gentleman (Irons) who is referred to simply as the Old Man.  Sure enough, the puzzling stranger turns out to be the original writer of the manuscript. The Old Man, distraught over the loss of his masterpiece, confronts Rory about stealing his work.

Ultimately, the film brings its focus back on the author Clay Hammond, where he is being stalked by an eye-catching graduate student (Wilde).

The Words is a directorial debut for Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, and unfortunately, it shows.  Most of the scenes are over-lit, making them look disturbingly unnatural and the music is distressingly over-the-top. The story suffers from the classic case of ‘it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’, and the idea of a story within a story within a story proves that less is always more.

Although the script touches on some potentially worthwhile issues, such as moral principles and fame and the junction of arts and commerce, it fails to develop any true substance and very little sympathy for any of the characters.

Irons, in the role of the Old Man, who just so happens to be ninety years old, simply doesn’t work.  Irons, renowned for his strong on-screen presence, seems lost and awkward in the skin of a ridiculously aged man. Cooper tries his best, but despite his efforts, he comes off cold, self-centred and grating.  The self-absorbed Quaid, who spends most of the film in close-ups, walks off with the worst over-the-top performance ever seen.  

To sum it up, The Words, regardless of its complexity in storytelling, is predictable, senseless and terribly exasperating.

Like This? Try

Limitless (2011), Deconstructing Harry (1997), Adaptation (2002)

360 Tip

Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman wrote the script back in 1999. As friends of Bradley Cooper, before his Hangover fame, they had asked him to play the lead; he accepted and kept his word more than 10 years later.

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