The Words needs inspired words to make it successful.
Directors: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal
Screenplay: Klugman (Tron: Legacy), Sternthal (Tron)
Cast: Bradley Cooper (Limitless), Olivia Wilde (People Like Us)
Runtime: 96 min.
by John DeSando
“And on a Friday afternoon, they were married at City Hall. They honeymooned in Paris.” Clayton Hammond
In The Words, words indeed are the force behind the plot, or the three plots I should say. An author, Clayton Hammond (Dennis Quaid), reads to an audience from his book that tells of a struggling writer, Rory Jensen (Bradley Cooper), who plagiarizes an entire book that becomes a national sensation. Yep, it’s a book within a book within a book. Hammond’s own mediocre writing (see opening quote) helps support a theme about elusive excellence and those who pretend to it.
The words of The Words may unintentionally point to the very weakness of failed writers’ words—they lack passion and coherence. Actually all writers seeing this film will know the feeling of inadequacy and the hardship of writing that would be enough for one story, much less three.
The framing story, about Hammond and young graduate student Danielle (Olivia Wilde), begs deconstruction to find its place in the pattern of the overall story. After all, his story is the central plot whose arc for Jensen is not complete: The character does not develop to a significant change other than suffering the pangs of having the theft discovered, and Hammond’s words are uninspiring, brief as they are (surely writers/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal knew better than to give us too many banal sentences from him).
The story Jensen has plagiarized, about a writer discovering his voice and producing a manuscript amid the turmoil of multiple losses in his marriage, has parallels to the two other stories but is so trite as to warrant thoughts about how it could ever have been a best seller—wait, wait, this is the US, where Shades of Gray is a best seller and Hemingway read not so much.
Simply put, the plot structure of The Words is a mess, with three lines running parallel and never intersecting in a strong theme, never expressing the truth about humanity other than that honesty, be it in writing or love, is to be desired most of all.
Writing is a difficult calling, not just the act itself but the surrounding subplots such as completing and publishing. When Hammond narrates these lines from his book, regardless of which plot line it serves in the film, the words show how elusive excellent words are. He narrates with words much less impressive than the Hemingway Jensen has been reading:
“It was a crisp and clear autumn morning. The old man was dressed exactly as the day before.”
Supposedly Hemingway’s first wife Hadley lost everything he wrote in a package on a train, but he went on to write transcendent prose anyway. The Old Man (Jeremy Irons) Jensen meets tells of his similar story, and despite his heavy-handed name, his words are not Hemingway’s. Nor are the words of this film; they’re just a screenplay wanting to be great and settling for a great idea put into a grade C movie.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org.
He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel
Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com