Reviewed by: Thaisha Geiger
Olivia Wilde … Danielle
Zoe Saldana … Dora Jansen
Bradley Cooper … Rory Jansen
Dennis Quaid … Clay Hammond
Jeremy Irons … The Old Man
J.K. Simmons … Mr. Jansen
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|Distributor||CBS Films Inc.|
“There’s more than one way to take a life.”
“The Words” is a story within a story… within a story. Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reads an excerpt from his book titled The Words. We see Daniella (Olivia Wilde) sit in the auditorium, as the story begins. Clay’s novel opens with Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) and his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) going to an awards ceremony, where Rory is to be honored for his bestselling novel.
The film then goes back five years when Rory is just another struggling writer in New York City. Though he and Dora are happy, Rory feels unsuccessful in his life. The words never flow onto his laptop to create that one perfect novel. When on their honeymoon in Paris, Dora buys her new husband an antique briefcase. Upon inspecting it, Rory finds a faded manuscript about a remarkable love story in postwar France. Wanting to simply feel the stellar words, Rory types the manuscript word for word. When his wife mistakenly believes it’s his own work and cries at the beauty of it, Rory sells the manuscript as his own. After enormous success, an old man (Jeremy Irons) tells Rory the true story behind the manuscript.
Where is the line drawn between life and fiction? It appears that the film attempts to delude the answer. Who are the real couples and the fictional ones? Or perhaps everything is a mixture of both biography and fiction, creating a semi-autobiographical tale of Clay Hammond. The film gives the audience a few clues, from carefully placed props to reenacted scenes from both literary couples.
Placing so many stories within the plot really limits the film from reaching its full potential. While the movie is never confusing, depth is sadly lacking and the plot thoroughly predictable. The theatrical trailer gave away the majority of the plot, so I found myself waiting for Rory to meet “the old man.” It would have been a more favorable move to really dig deep into the psyche of a failed writer and why written words are so important, especially to the thousands who will never see their works published. One literary agent tells Rory that his novel is “too interior.” What does this mean? This exploration likely would have been beneficial.
“The Words” definitely isn’t a poor film. Some of the dialog is memorable, but the true success are all the performances. For me, Jeremy Irons is the standout in both narrator and actor. It was nice to see Bradley Cooper in a less vulgar film. He and Zoe Saldana possess great chemistry on-screen. Though a bit one dimensional, Dora is shown as a supportive wife; this is such a nice change from the too often miserable character couples written in today’s films.
Surprisingly, there are no graphic sex scenes. Dora and Rory are briefly shown to be living together. While moving in, Rory lies on top of Dora and kisses her. In one scene, she tries to entice him and shakes her derrière. After this scene, they are married and share a few more kisses. In the flashback of the old man in postwar Paris, he kisses his wife and takes off her dress; only her shoulders are shown. When Clay meets Daniella, one can feel their instant attraction; his agent tells him no foreplay. They later share a passionate kiss, but take it no further.
The film’s main offense is its use of profanity. It’s heavily concentrated in certain portions and scarcely used in the rest. In all, I counted 19 uses: 7 sh_t, 6 GD, 2 “f” words, 3 hells, and 1 as_.
There isn’t really a climatic moment in dealing with Rory’s plagiarism. The effects are shown, but then Rory’s story ends, and we meet back up with Clay. Perhaps his consequence was purposefully vague, allowing the audience to decide whether Rory’s true punishment transcended within the confines of Clay’s novel. Daniella grew frustrated with Clay when he explained how Rory’s life continued on. King Solomon wrote:
The ending does remain ambiguous, and I believe this is an attempt to make viewers speculate on each character’s exact role in the fictional journey. I don’t personally recommend “The Words”; however, this might be a decent rental. Though aimed to be about an author’s word, the film is mostly a narration of his life, actions and literary rejections.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.