Does The Words establish itself as an Oscar candidate, or find itself on the discount book pile? Warning: major spoilers ahead.
With the Summer movie season officially over, all eyes turn to the Fall, where Oscar contenders lie in wait like a scene from African Cats. With the exception of a few upcoming action flicks (Skyfall and The Hobbit), the mood at theaters becomes decidedly dramatic, complete with male crying, overly-dramatic music, and a general feeling that the theater has been pumped with estrogen. The opening salvo, The Words, actually demonstrates potential early but loses the crowd in a surprising third act.
When struggling writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper, Limitless) finds an old manuscript in a weathered bag while on his honeymoon in Paris, he decides to channel the passionate words of the unknown author by typing them on his computer; but when Rory's wife Dora (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek) thinks he's actually written the book, Rory decides to steal it. Afterall, hs life has been one failure after another, so why shouldn't he take the credit for "just a little book." Soon, wealth and fame are his, that is until the real author (Jeremy Irons, The Mission) shows up to claim his work. The Old Man spouts off the backstory in a collection of sepia-toned 40's nostalgia, demanding nothing more than Jansen 'own' the story and accept all the pain of a life lost. The funny thing about movie marketing is that sometimes the real story lies just underneath what they want you to see, and The Wordstakes on this apparition, making Jansen's story part of another book that author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid, Day After Tomorrow) reads to the audience in real time. This duo plot line soon finds a third when the recently-divorced Hammond gains the affections of college student Daniella (Olivia Wilde, Tron: Legacy), who wants to know how Hammond will write the follow up. For both Jansen and Hammond, the question is clear: will they allow success to taint their decision to do the right thing?
A strong start fizzles in the third act as Daniella learns about Hammond's sequel, and audiences learn how Jansen will handle The Old Man. There's much to like in The Words:Cooper and Saldana have great chemistry, while Wilde's mesmerizing eyes captivate each time she probes Hammond for more information. But, it's the odd casting of Quaid and the sometimes stolid performance of Irons which keeps the film from achieving more. Wilde and Quaid seem completely out of sorts for most of their scenes, as writers/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (Tron: Legacy) seem to suggest that Daniella has ulterior motives in meeting the much-older Hammond. This is poorly resolved, as is Jansen's storyline, leaving audiences to wonder whether the paltry 96 minute runtime was a victim of a late re-shoot/edit. Klugman and Sternthall can't seem to squeeze anything more from Quaid or Irons, whom the film relies upon so heavily to keep the audience properly grounded between the various worlds. While the two endings will surprise audiences, they will probably also result in fierce debates about more effective wrap-ups than the ones presented. Quaid's casting should also spur debate, but not the kind our creative team would have envisioned.
While The Words might resonate with women who will adore the Jansen love story, they might also find the younger Wilde and the much older Quaid poorly contrived and just plain creepy.
The Words is a nesting doll of diminishing returns that could have produced a genuine treasure, had our creative team made only a few minor adjustments. A failed casting choice here, a thud of a finale there, all contribute to a story with so much potential that leaves the audience in tears, more for the mistakes made/opportunities lost than the majesty to which it aspires. The Words is rated PG-13 for language and sexual situations.
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