Hollow ‘Words’ is drawn out

Courtesy PhotoMagical manuscript: Zoe Saldana and Bradley Cooper play a couple who find a treasure in an old bag in “The Words

Layered with intrigue but hollow where it counts, “The Words” serves up romance, ambition, plagiarism and heartbreak in stories of three authors who have let literary aspiration usurp love. But enticingly constructed gimmickry cannot compensate for a lack of pithiness and passion in this story about great writing.

The film is the directorial debut of Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, whose résumés include story credits on “Tron: Legacy.” They prove smoother at the helm than at the keyboard here as they present two primary scenarios and a framing device, nesting-doll style.

#link_box { width: 150px; height: auto; margin: 0; padding: 0; margin: 10px 20px 10px 0px; padding: 10px; background-color: #fbfade; /* ecru – light yellow */ border: 1px solid #343a25; /* green – for summer arts */ float: left; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-size: 11px; } #link_box img, #link_box a { border 0px; border-style: none; outline: none; } #link_box h1 { margin: 0; padding: 5px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; text-transform: none; color: #8A0808; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-weight: bold; font-size: 12px; text-align: center; } #link_box h2 { margin: 0; padding: 5px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; text-transform: none; color: #000; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-weight: bold; font-size: 10px; text-align: center; } #link_box ul { list-style: none; margin: 0; padding: 0; border: none; } #link_box li { margin: 0px padding: 0px; border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; border-bottom-width: 1px; } #link_box li a { display: block; padding: 5px 5px 5px 15px; /* Padding for bullet */ /* border-bottom: 1px solid #ddd; border-bottom-width: 1px; */ color: #000; width: 100%; width: auto; /* height: auto; */ /* border: 1px solid blue; */ margin: 0px; font-family: arial, sans serif; font-size: 11px; line-height: 14px; text-decoration: none; } #link_box li a: before { /* background-position: top left; */ } #link_box li a:hover { background-color: #ddd; color: #000; }

In New York, shallow but bestselling author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) gives a reading from his latest novel.

As he speaks, the picture shifts to the fictive world of his characters. They include Rory (Bradley Cooper), a writer with a supportive wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), and considerable talent, but without the accessibility factor it takes to get published.

The trouble begins when Dora buys Rory an old leather bag at one of those antique shops whose wares can trigger life-changing events, moviewise. Inside, Rory discovers a manuscript. It wows him.

Rory types the unknown writer’s novel into his computer, puts his byline on it, and without telling Dora about the lie, he becomes a star.

But then the real author, now a grizzled Old Man (Jeremy Irons), shows up. Rory must confront the consequences of his fraud.

As they peel away narrative layers to reveal Rory’s moral tumble and the Old Man’s similarly ambition-fueled mistakes (the latter transpire in postwar Paris), the filmmakers deliver some spark. The hint that fictional Rory is a stand-in for real-life Clay is among several engaging ideas tossed up.

They also display a welcome regard for writers, even if references seem limited to Hemingway. Best is the depiction of the common fear of authors that even their most inspired writing clunks.

But for every worthy moment, there are flat stretches and cliches, and the result is a film  that isn’t rewarding on the surface or substantial at the core.

One character smashes his typewriter in frustration. Good writing is portrayed as a convulsion of inexplicable inspiration preceded by trauma and drunkenness.

And for a story about good writing, the movie contains little. “We all make choices in this life — the hardest thing is to live with them,” says the presumably sage Old Man. Credit Irons for making this contrived character almost credible.

Cooper, meanwhile, is less convincing as a morally torn writer, while Quaid fares better as Clay. He’s particularly effective when suggesting, in an encounter with a grad student (Olivia Wilde) who wants to get into both his head and his bed, that, deep down, he’s sadly aware of how mediocre he is.

artsBradley CooperJeremy IronsMoviesZoe Saldana

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Police release an image a cracked windshield on a Prius that Cesar Vargas allegedly tried to carjack. Vargas, who was shot by police a short time later, can be seen in videos jumping on the windshield and pushing a Muni passenger who disembarked from a bus. (Courtesy SFPD
SFPD releases videos of deadly police shooting

Cesar Vargas killed after reports of carjacking with knife

New legislation would make sure supportive housing tenants don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent.. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner))
Supportive housing tenants could get more help paying the rent

Supportive housing tenants struggling to pay rent could soon see their payments… Continue reading

Organizers of the San Francisco International Arts Festival had planned to use parts of Fort Mason including the Parade Ground, Eucalyptus Grove and Black Point Battery to host performances by about a dozen Bay Area arts groups. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Arts festival sues city over permit denial

Organizer says outdoor performances should be treated like demonstrations, religious gatherings

An oversight body for San Francisco’s mental health programs may be restructured after questions were raised about its management and lack of effectiveness. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Behavioral health oversight body looks for new start — and staff — after mismanagement

Members of an oversight body for San Francisco’s behavioral health programs said… Continue reading

The City requires the recycling or reuse of debris material removed from a construction project site. <ins>(Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
<ins></ins>
Permits proposed for haulers of construction debris to achieve zero-waste

San Francisco plans to tighten regulations on the disposal of construction and… Continue reading

Most Read