"The Words” is, as its name suggests, a wordy melodrama about a young writer, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), who finishes his first novel, three years in the making — which is promptly rejected. Maybe, he wonders, he’s not who he thought he was — a writer.
Then he stumbles across a yellowed, unpublished manuscript from long ago and sees his salvation, his shortcut to fame.
Maybe, he realizes, he’s not who he thought he was — an ethical, honest man.
“Words” is a pleasant but overly complex variation on an idea Woody Allen toyed-with in his stumbling “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” this notion of counterfeit literary fame, a stolen manuscript. What co-writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (“Tron Legacy”) attempt to do with it is get at the guilt that comes with ill-gotten glory.
Rory is cursed with being good enough to recognize the gem he’s stumbled across in an attache case bought in a Paris antique shop, cursed with knowing this novel is better than anything he’ll ever write. His adoring wife (the luminous Zoe Saldana) can tell him “You are everything you always wanted to be,” but Rory knows better.
“The Words,” in a fit of ambition, goes after its themes by telling three stories, each existing within the others.
There’s the dull framework of the piece, a book reading by a novelist, Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), who delivers the beyond-banal lines from his latest novel about “a young struggling writer struggling to make his voice heard.” How did this dullard get to be a famous novelist, with Olivia Wilde as his new wide-eyed groupie, no less?
He tells us, after a fashion. Hammond narrates the second story, Rory’s romance with the fair Dora (Saldana). We see Rory’s years of struggle and his discovery of the novel he would ride to fame. And Hammond, giving away the whole novel in this one reading — apparently — tells of the day Rory meets “The Old Man” (Jeremy Irons), the one person on Earth who recognized this book as his own, written more than half a century earlier, the one man who knows Rory is a fraud.
If you were setting out to write the perfect fall film, you’d include much that’s in “The Words” — romantic settings, mystery, literary intrigue and longing. But for that “perfect” film, you’d have to heighten the emotions. And you’d probably trim a lot of words out of it, especially if the novels within the novel are as weak as the lines the screenwriters have Quaid narrate, the situations Cooper must act out and the script that only the old pro Irons can give the spark of life.
"The Words" is rated PG-13 and is showing at UEC Theater 12.