×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Words

A literary film that stands to work best for those who don't read, "The Words" is a slick, superficially clever compendium of stories about authors of uncertain talent and varying success.

With:
Rory Jensen - Bradley Cooper
The Old Man - Jeremy Irons
Clayton Hammond - Dennis Quaid
Danielle - Olivia Wilde
Dora Jensen - Zoe Saldana
Celia - Nora Arnezeder
Rory's Father - J.K. Simmons
Nelson Wylie - Michael McKean
Timothy Epstein - Ron Rifkin

A literary film that stands to work best for those who don’t read, “The Words” is a slick, superficially clever compendium of stories about authors of uncertain talent and varying success. As is the case in too many films about writers, the pic avoids sharing actual prose in more than teasing snippets — a choice that, along with the multigenerational casting of Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid and Bradley Cooper, bespeaks its bid for the widest possible appeal. Nevertheless, CBS Films’ high-profile Sundance pickup, skedded for fall release, will require some improbably kind words from crix and auds to put it over.

As delivered by co-writer-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, the movie’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em flashes of text onscreen utterly fail — presumably on purpose — to establish the exact nature of “The Window Tears,” a postwar European page-turner whose yellowing manuscript callow Rory Jensen (Cooper) finds tucked in an old Parisian satchel and passes off as his own. Celebrated as a work of genius (who’s an uninformed viewer to argue?), “Tears” brings joy to Jensen until the book’s true author, known only, and absurdly, as the “Old Man” (Irons), comes to threaten the younger scribe’s reputation.

As it happens, all this is merely the plot of a pulpy and popular novel called “The Words,” whose hotshot author, Clayton Hammond (Quaid), appears onstage in New York reading it aloud — in portions lengthy enough to let us know he’s a hack, if not a full-on plagiarist himself. What’s shrewdest about this stories-within-a-story conceit is how it allows the pic to suggest that its lack of literary flair is primarily Hammond’s fault and not the film’s.

At least “The Words” works visually to a point, capably embellishing not just Hammond’s fiction but his real life backstage in the company of a fawning young Columbia U. grad student (Olivia Wilde). Alas, Wilde’s pushy Danielle is but one of the pic’s stereotypically bothersome women-behind-the-men, along with Jensen’s upwardly aspirant wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), and ’40s-era Euro barmaid Celia (Nora Arnezeder), who not only abandons the Old Man’s younger self but loses his precious manuscript as well.

While Irons, yellow-toothed and cane-toting, is forced to play a would-be administer of comeuppance who gets all misty-eyed and gentle whenever it comes time to cue a flashback, Cooper and Quaid prove highly effective as men who fear they may not deserve their success. In particular, Quaid works wonders, subtly suggesting that Hammond’s tale of a literary thief could well be a work of veiled autobiography.

Klugman and Sternthal’s dialogue — or, if one wishes to be charitable, Hammond’s — is simply atrocious, leaning heavily on cliches and stilted platitudes. Intentionally or not, the pic’s wittiest line has Rory’s agent taking a pass on “The Burning Tree,” a mysterious book the plagiarist actually wrote himself, for being “too interior.”

New York interiors appear handsome, implausibly so in the case of the spacious Manhattan digs that Rory and Dora enjoy in his “struggling” period. Marcelo Zarvos’ piano- and string-based score sounds fine as formulaic and overused movie music goes.

The Words

Production: A CBS Films release of a Benaroya Pictures presentation of a Parlay Films production, in association with Animus Films, Serena Films, Waterfall Media. (International sales: Parlay, Santa Monica.) Produced by Michael Benaroya, Tatiana Kelly, Jim Young. Executive producers, Laura Rister, Cassian Elwes, Lisa Wilson, Bradley Cooper. Co-producers, Rose Ganguzza, James Lejsek, Ben Sachs. Directed, written by Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal.

Crew: Camera (color), Antonio Calvache; editor, Leslie Jones; music, Marcelo Zarvos; music supervisor, Laura Katz; production designer, Michele LaLiberte; costume designer, Simonetta Mariano; sound (Dolby Digital), Simon Poudrette; supervising sound editor, Joel Dougherty; re-recording mixers, Dougherty, Skip Lievsay; casting, Eyde Belasco. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres, closer), Jan. 21, 2012. Running time: 102 MIN.

Cast: Rory Jensen - Bradley Cooper
The Old Man - Jeremy Irons
Clayton Hammond - Dennis Quaid
Danielle - Olivia Wilde
Dora Jensen - Zoe Saldana
Celia - Nora Arnezeder
Rory's Father - J.K. Simmons
Nelson Wylie - Michael McKean
Timothy Epstein - Ron RifkinWith: Ben Barnes, John Hannah. (English, French dialogue)

More Scene

  • Charlize Theron speaks at the GEANCO

    Charlize Theron Talks 'White Privilege,' Growing Up During Apartheid in South Africa

    Charlize Theron, during an onstage discussion with her “Gringo” costar David Oyelowo about philanthropy at Thursday’s annual fundraiser for Nigerian children’s educational and health program GEANCO, said she was a beneficiary of “white privilege” while growing up in Apartheid-torn South Africa. “I obviously am a white person who benefited from my white privilege,” Theron said [...]

  • Lyliana Wray, Sam Ashe Arnold, Miya

    ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark’ Revival Team on Living Up to the Series’ Legacy

    The 2019 revival of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” centers around the Carnival of Doom, a place that star Jeremy Ray Taylor (“It Chapter Two”) describes as “beautiful on the outside, but…in the middle of it, there are definitely dark secrets. Variety caught up with the young star during a carnival-themed celebration at Row DTLA [...]

  • Charlize Theron'The Addams Family' film premiere,

    Charlize Theron Speaks Immigration, Diversity in ‘The Addams Family’

    They’re creepy, they’re kooky, and they’re an allegory for immigration in America.  Charlize Theron discussed the changing face of the nuclear family and her animated film, “The Addams Family,” with Variety at the movie’s recent premiere at the Century City Mall in Los Angeles. “When you think of [the Addams] being around since the sixties, [...]

  • Emma Stone attends the Los Angeles

    Emma Stone Talks 'Cruella' Transformation, New 'Zombieland' Sequel

    Despite inevitable comparisons to Glenn Close’s iconic turn as Cruella de Vil in 1996’s “101 Dalmatians,” Emma Stone teased that her take on the infamous villain in the upcoming “Cruella” movie will be very distinctive. “It comes long before her story,” Stone told Variety at the premiere of “Zombieland: Double Tap” at the Regency Village [...]

  • Gwyneth Paltrow arrives at the 2019

    Gwyneth Paltrow Honored at amfAR Gala

    Gwyneth Paltrow received one of this year’s courage awards at amfAR’s annual gala on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Paltrow’s longtime friends Dan Bucatinsky and Don Roos presented her with the award. “I didn’t prepare anything because I don’t think I really believe in thank you speeches, but I did want to thank amfAR for this,” [...]

  • Variety’s Power of Women Gift Bag

    Variety’s Power of Women Gift Bag: Sneak Peek

    While there are only so many cover honorees, everyone will go home a star this Power of Women Los Angeles. Each guest will receive a large Shopping Tote provided by The Little Market, and screen-printed by Homeboy Industries. Item inclusion ranges from product in entertainment, beauty, health, fashion, and more. Missed your chance to attend? [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content