Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldaña, Jeremy Irons
Directed by: Brian Klugman (debut) and Lee Sternthal (debut)
Written by: Brian Klugman (debut) and Lee Sternthal (debut)
What’s with a good-looking actor like Bradley Cooper playing a character as non-sexy as a writer? Why cast a charming, handsome sex symbol just to have him sit at a computer and type or silently read manuscripts for large chunks of the film? Is it a secret passion of Cooper’s? Or does he just want to keep his shirt on? As in 2011’s “Limitless,” Cooper once again plays a struggling author in the excruciatingly stupid drama “The Words” who can’t get his book off the ground until receiving a morally suspect leg up. In “Limitless” it was a brainpower-enhancing super drug. In “The Words,” it’s a found manuscript Cooper’s Rory Jensen passes off as his own on the way to fame and fortune.
First-time writers-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal steer “The Words” off the road and into a narrative ditch immediately by opening the film with a clumsy, nonsensical framing device featuring Dennis Quaid telling the fictional story of Rory’s plagiarism. Quaid’s bestselling author Clay Hammond is performing a reading of his smash-hit novel (also titled “The Words”) to a lecture hall full of adoring fans, including a beautiful admirer played by Olivia Wilde. As Hammond reads to the audience, the film confusingly shifts to the story of Rory and his wife Dora (Zoe Saldaña) and their days both before and after Rory became a successful author.
When Rory’s first book gets passed over by agent after agent, an eye-rolling-worthy convenient find in a satchel purchased in Paris turns up a forgotten novel set in postwar France. Though we aren’t treated to any insight as to what makes the book so transcendent, Rory feels moved enough by the discovery to, for some reason, re-type the entire thing on his laptop. One contrivance leads to another, and soon enough Rory is a best-selling author with a movie deal in the works. Life is great…until the day an old man (Jeremy Irons, convincing no one with his shoddy American accent and patchwork beard) shows up to let Rory know he’s onto him and that the story is actually his own. The movie grinds to a halt as the old man tells his story to a shame-frozen Rory. Let me clarify here: at this point the story of the movie is a story being told to a crowd in a lecture hall about an old man telling a story to another man on a park bench.
What does Irons’ old man actually want? What makes the story that Jensen stole so incredibly commercially successful? What is the point of Jensen’s story being the plot of Hammond’s novel? And why the hell is Olivia Wilde’s character in the movie at all? “The Words” offers no answers, alas, and will only end up leaving you with the most frustrating question of all: Why did I waste my time watching “The Words?”