“I’m not who I thought I was, and I’m terrified I never will be,” says writer Rory Jensen (Bradley Cooper). His first novel is unpublishable although, an editor tells him, “it’s artistic, subtle – a piece of art.” Inside a tattered briefcase that his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) bought in Paris, Rory finds a manuscript, an apparently abandoned, unpublished novel that is “all he ever aspired to be.” Will he publish it as his own work? You might think that’s the film’s setup, but there are two more stories. Rory and Dora are fictional characters in a novel by Clayton Hammond (Dennis Quaid). So we have his story. And the fictional writer (Jeremy Irons) of the Paris manuscript has a story, too – how he wrote his novel and how his girl friend Celia (Nora Amezeder) lost it. These are the three layered stories in “The Words.” Can you keep them sorted out?
Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons and Dennis Quaid are the three writers – Rory Jensen, The Old Man (who has no name), and Clayton Hammond. While Cooper and Irons play fictional characters who exist only in Quaid’s novel – called “The Words” – they have more screen time than Quaid, who appears only briefly at the beginning and, a bit more, at the end of the film. All three are convincing in their roles, especially Jeremy Irons as The Old Man who says, “I have a story about a man who wrote a book and the pissant kid who stole it.” Irons is more philosophical and less bitter than those words would suggest and, actually, more interesting as a character than the other two.
Three women are in the cast – Zoe Saldana, Nora Amezeder and Olivia Wilde. Saldana is Bradley Cooper’s wife Dora who finds the briefcase. Amezeder is Celia who loses the briefcase. Wilde is Ph.D. student Daniella who quizzes Dennis Quaid. She wants to know – as we all do – how his story ends.
“The Words” is a romantic drama about ambition and choices, well-acted and nicely filmed but, finally, unsatisfying. Written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, it’s a three-act story with the third act unfinished. Act one is Rory and Dora’s story; act two is The Old Man’s story. Act three should be Clay Hammond’s story, of which we get a bit, but his novel (“The Words”) apparently has no ending. Hammond asks Daniella to tell him how it ends. So we are left with questions: Did Hammond make the whole thing up or is “The Words” his story? What does The Old Man mean when he says, “We all make choices in our lives. The hard thing is to live with them”? Why does “The Old Man” have no name? Discuss these questions on your way home.
Rated PG-13 for brief language and smoking, “The Words” runs 96 minutes.
Three layered stories,
“The Words” tells two –
What about the third?
Are there any clues?