Every time it’s the same old story. No day is different from the last. These opening sentences will have nothing to do with the review or the film we’re about to talk about, but they’re pretty much the opening lines. More or less. I don’t know. Something like that. Short sentences that sound great, but aren’t actually sentences. Dramatic punctuation. Every few seconds. Profundity. The sounds of those who like hearing the sound of their own voice.
The movie starts up with an expectedly overblown narration and a vague indication of the numerous timelines and story threads the writer and director are going to set up. The book on the table in the opening shot is cleverly titled The Words, just like the film, and it’s been written by Clayton Hammond (Dennis Quiad) an aging novelist who begins reading aloud to his rapturous audience and to us viewers within seconds it becomes baffling how someone so fictionally famous could have ever been a novelist because his prose sucks harder than a teenage piece of trailer trash siphoning gas from a nearly dried up 1988 Crown Victoria coupe left to scrap in the back of a single bay auto shop at the end of a leaf covered dead end street. Much like how that young man you see on the street in the Van Halen ’88 tour shirt wants to get out of town by any means necessary, I wanted to find a way out of the theatre as soon as possible.
Hammond has written the well received tale of Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), a struggling young author working his way up from the mailroom of a publishing house with hopes of finding an agent willing to go to bat for his passion project, which the audience will learn nothing about outside of it being completely unsellable and a work of art. After marrying his long time girlfriend, Dora (Zoe Saldana), and spending about ten full minutes of the movie’s running time cuddling with her, Rory buys an old messenger bag while on his honeymoon in Paris only to later find out that the bag holds a decades old manuscript that he finds himself immediately drawn to.
Inside the bag is a wondrous piece of found prose about a young American soldier struggling to cope during World War II. So moved by the work, Rory puts it all down onto paper himself so he can “feel the words.” Egged on by his snooping wife who thinks it’s the most brilliant thing he’s ever done we bounce back to Clayton for minute hitting on some grad student (Olivia Wilde who has nothing interesting to do) before he relays to us that Rory passes off the manuscript as his own and becomes a best selling author.
Ludicrous plotting and inane writing aside, no one seems particularly engaged by what they’re doing up until this point. Cooper does what he can, but Rory as a character is blander than dehydrated mashed potatoes before the alchemy of adding water and a dollop of butter to them. Saldana and Wilde have nothing more to do than stare into space and question their surroundings with a wide eyed wonder that only characters in cheap paperback novels can do to mask a lack of profundity in their lives. Quaid just has to literally read off a page or act halfway tipsy and mildly lecherous/stand offish.
Then things take a turn for the truly ridiculous with the arrival of The Old Man (a character so profound it’s never credited with a name) played by Jeremy Irons desperately trying to inject some dignity into the film, but even he fails like a fifth grader who spends his afternoons playing with balsa wood gliders and dreaming of flying to Honah Lee. He’s the true author of the manuscript, cornering Rory on his lunch break from celebrity like Peter Falk trying to get Kermit the Frog to buy a watch, as we get yet another storyline about how the manuscript actually came to be with the young Old Man played by Ben Barns, who’s almost sepia toned and colour corrected out of existence.
Aside from its somnambulant nature and dire predictability, The Words has a script so overwrought with hoary clichés and manipulative asides (courtesy of writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, they of story credits for Tron: Legacy and really nothing else outside of acting gigs) that it’s own understatement and sense of literary self seriousness becomes flat out laughable. Whether or not the characters end up making the right decisions becomes completely immaterial since not a single one of them acts or sounds like a real human being.
If The Words were novel, it would be on the discount rack within a couple of months. As a movie getting dumped in September where few would likely go to see it, it will be gone in a couple of weeks before hitting video store shelves; gathering dust like the tomes of old on a remainder shelf, staring back glassy eyed at uncaring customers that will never know its pain as it begs for attention. So shall it sit in its own solitude, a package of white noise signifying nothing.
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