Director: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Animus Films, Benaroya Pictures
The wincingly phony, laughably pretentious romantic drama The Words gives the world Bradley Cooper as a struggling novelist who plagiarizes an unpublished memoir found in an old valise his wife Zoe Saldana buys him in a Paris antique store while honeymooning.
In a succession of bogus scenes punctuated by sweeping elevator music and overwrought dialogue sounding less like Ernest Hemingway than Nicholas Sparks, we see our hero’s book get published — how could it not when the top editor of a publishing house marvels, “You’ve written a remarkable work of fiction”? And soon, the tome flies off the shelves of bookstores everywhere, making Cooper (an actor who projects qualities we wouldn't describe as “writerly”) ridiculously rich, idolized, self-deluded but, now and again, a tad guilty. We know Cooper feels pangs of remorse because his mouth tightens and his glazed eyes widen meaningfully, especially when the real author, an old coot played by Jeremy Irons, turns up to do a slow-drip torture on him (and the audience) by relating flashbacks about himself as a young man (played by Ben Barnes) and the events that inspired the manuscript, all magnificently photographed in golden hues by Antonio Calvache and production designer Michele Laliberte. From there, the movie shuttles back and forth among our hero’s story, the old guy’s story and his younger self’s story — which would be fine if at least one of these stories were actually interesting and cut deeper than a glossy surface.
Irons, finally in the full Boris Karloff mode toward which he's been working for decades, is clearly acting in a far better movie, as is Dennis Quaid as a writer who may hold the secret to the entire movie. By the time The Words spells things out for us, you may be way too sick of stories-within-stories, framing devices and, yes, words, to care.