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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Three stories told in The Words, all dull, bland, uninteresting

By Joshua Knopp/special assignments editor

It’s a little ironic that a movie titled The Words has absolutely nothing to say.

The movie is primarily about a story within the movie and, at times, about a story within that story within the movie. While watching the film, it’s uncommon to be less than two layers deep. In the first layer, famous author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reads from his new book while a grad student, Daniella (Olivia Wilde), stalks him lustfully.

Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) and his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), honeymoon in Paris in The Words, a book written by Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) in the movie The Words.
Photo courtesy CBS Films

The second layer is the book he reads from. In it, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) is a young writer struggling to make himself known. He plagiarizes a World War II-era manuscript his wife (Zoe Saldana) found while they were honeymooning in Paris.

As he wins award upon award for the resulting book, he is confronted by the old man (Jeremy Irons) who wrote the manuscript. The third layer is the plagiarized story, which is the old man’s life.

Make sense?

The complexity of the narrative and deftness with which it is told is one of The Words’ selling points. Three stories are woven into one, and at no point is it unclear which layer is onscreen. It was probably a primary goal of the production, and co-writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal really accomplished it.

They really, really accomplished it. It was extremely clear what was going on the whole time.

In fact, it was so clear, that basically anyone could figure out every important plot point from the first five minutes. Whether because it’s too slow or because there really isn’t any meat to the stories —The Words may have three layers, but none have any teeth — the film is predictable well beyond the point of tedium.

While in a better movie this wouldn’t be a problem and audiences would be compelled by the performances and drama in the moment, The Words defaults once the plot is foreseeable. The talented cast thrashes desperately to distinguish the movie, but it simply can’t. Wilde and Irons are strong enough to be noticeable in bit parts, and Cooper carries the movie. The cast did all that a cast can do. It’s as if it was trying to inflate a very small balloon — no matter how much hot air gets packed in, the balloon will only grow so large.

The Words isn’t an awful movie. It’s not an exploitation film, and it clearly had a lot of care put into it, but when you compare it to other movies with complicated storylines, it becomes bland. Watching Memento, for instance, it’s a reward just to understand what is going on, and once the plot is divined, it’s still an entertaining movie. With The Words, the main payoff seems to be knowing what happens to the characters, and the audience can get that five minutes in.

The movie is all right, but it feels like cotton candy vanishing in your mouth. There’s just nothing there.

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