Movie Review: The Words

Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana in The Words
Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana in 'The Words' - Photo © CBS Films

Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion

Although there’s a Bruce Willis action flick opening this weekend in 1,500 theaters, considering what commercials, campaigning and marketing have been going on its behalf, you wouldn’t even know it (I only found out when checking the release schedule that Willis’ movie even existed). That leaves only one major release hitting the marketplace today and depending on your take on the trailer for The Words, you’re either thinking this is a heavy drama or some Nicholas Sparks’ clone.
You’re both right.
In the film, Dennis Quaid plays a celebrated author promoting his latest book at a packed-house reading. A beautiful grad student (Olivia Wilde) finagles her way back stage and is intent on not only working the seduction angle but learning about the motivations for his book and how he really sees the end of it.
Sounds simple enough … Oh wait, there’s more.
The book that Quaid is reading is presented to the audience as a story within the story, with Bradley Cooper playing an author who must make a choice concerning a found manuscript that would make his name relevant enough to prompt publishing his own works in the future. He’s married to Zoe Saldana who plays the male-fantasized image of a supportive and proud wife (but don’t expect to see her character developed beyond that). And in order to lend some stereotypical element of gravitas, enter Jeremy Irons as the author of the manuscript.
Okay, well I suppose I can understand adding another layer to the plot … Oh wait, there’s more.
The story that captures Cooper’s attention so completely is also presented to the audience; as a story within a story within another story. Apparently Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (who also directed the movie together) wrote this screenplay over ten years ago so while I don’t think they borrowed their ideas from any other project, it all felt very much like Inception meets The Notebook; only without the cinematic competency and somehow with the ability to make an hour and a half feel like two hours.
Throwing aside the cliché and oft-used romantic themes on display, the movie is simply rather poor filmmaking. Sure, most shots are in focus and the places and people look pretty but films are meant to be primarily a visual medium. The conceit of a movie concerning an author describing another author who’s fixated on yet another author’s work meant that much of the emotion and plot was delivered via narrated exposition. If I wanted to listen to a story, I’d turn on the speech function on my electronic reading device.
The story contained in the manuscript is the best cinematically, allowing its characters to tell their story far more visually than the others. Ben Barnes and Nora Arnezeder make the most of their opportunity and had the movie simply been about them, this might have been something lovely and enjoyable. It also features the most complete arc of the three main stories, which helps sell it; that and having to compare it to the other two flat plotlines.
As it stands, The Words plays out like “Arthouse Films for Dummies” and I don’t mean that too pejoratively. I’m sure there will be fans of romance movies that will enjoy this because they’re not looking for anything deeper, don’t want anything other than the familiar, and want to escape real life. It need not ever be seen by audiences who need more than beautiful people tearing up to make the movie worth watching; and for anyone who enjoys the intense and thoughtful romantic themes that can be found far more often in foreign and independent cinema, this is the very definition of unnecessary.
The Words is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking.
More on The Words:
Photo Gallery
Trailer, Cast Info, and Synopsis