Early on in “The Words,” the film’s protagonist is called into the office of a book publisher. The publisher compliments the struggling writer on his literary talent and the book he has submitted. Ultimately, however, the publisher tells him that his novel isn’t marketable. This scene will likely resonate with anybody who has ever poured his or her soul into a book, screenplay or television pilot only to face rejection. “The Words” has a lot to say about the labor of succeeding in a creative field and the price that comes with achieving fame. Regrettably, the film isn’t without some evident flaws.
In their directorial debut, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal weave together a story within a story within a story. The decisive narrator of the film is Dennis Quaid as Clay Hammond, an acclaimed novelist attending a public reading of his latest book. Olivia Wilde is Danielle, a luminous student who is fascinated by Hammond’s work. A majority of the film takes place within Hammond’s story in which Bradley Cooper’s Rory Jansen dreams of being a writer. Rory’s wife, played by Zoe Saldana, purchases her downhearted husband an antique satchel in an attempt to make him look more professional. Emptying the satchel, Rory comes across a masterful piece of unpublished literature. Through a series of misunderstandings, Rory is prompted to claim the book as his own and becomes the toast of the literary world.
The most intriguing portion of the movie is supplied by the great Jeremy Irons as an old man who shares his life story with Rory. He delves deep into his experiences in the war and how he fell in love with a beautiful French woman named Celia. Some of the twists and turns regarding the Irons character are admittedly predictable. Yet, Irons’ elegance and sly humor still make him a very fun character to follow. The dynamic he shares the naive Rory is especially enticing, suspenseful and even poignant.
Among the film’s three major plots, the weakest takes place in the real world with Quaid and Wilde. The audience keeps waiting for this subplot to amount to a payoff that cleverly brings matters full circle. But it just sits there with no place to go. The filmmakers could have removed this entire portion from the movie and it would have had little impact on the narrative. Then “The Words” would probably be just under an hour and 30 minutes long though.
All in all, we have two-thirds of a movie that works quite well and one-third that’s needless padding. It’s a close call, but for the strong performances and fraction of the film that does succeed, “The Words” just barely crosses the brink of worthiness. In many ways, “The Words” can be interpreted as a counterpart to “Anonymous,” a film that suggested William Shakespeare stole all of his plays from Edward De Vere. Both of these movies agreeably have their faults and moments that drag. For what they get right though, they’re entertaining rides nonetheless.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.