×
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

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. More Reviews Film Review: 'St. [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. More Reviews Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Film [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. More Reviews Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. More Reviews Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Film Review: ‘Dragon [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. More Reviews Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ “When [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content