Picture this: one day, after antique shopping (bear with me), you get home to find an old, typed manuscript secretly tucked away in the folds of your recently-purchased vintage briefcase. Curious, you pick up the faded yellow pages and begin to read. Being a writer yourself, you fall in love with the way the words bleed into you, make you cry, make you laugh, make you want to read it again and again. It’s nothing like your own manuscript—the novel you worked on for three years only to face a discouraging swarm of rejection letters and yet another reason you will need to beg your parents for a check at the end of the month.
Now, imagine. You’re struggling to get by, you’ve dreamt of being an author for years and your novel just isn’t up to snuff. But then, this story falls into your lap and there’s no name on it. What do you do?
Do you keep it hidden away? Do you tell people about it, making sure to note that it isn’t your work? Or, do you show it to a publisher, claim it as your own and embrace a world of success, wealth and fame? As far as the film “The Words” is concerned, you choose option three. And if you’re Rory Jansen (played by Bradley Cooper), the decision eats away at you like a toxin.
“The Words” is a poignant tale of the choices we make in our lives and the consequences we end up facing because of them. Cooper gives a grade-A performance as the compassionate Rory Jansen, who discovers an unpublished manuscript and passes it off as his own. At first, things seem to go very well, but then an old man (Jeremy Irons) appears and gives Rory hell for stealing his book. I have only ever seen Cooper in a comedy setting (The Hangover, Valentine’s Day and a quick guest appearance in an episode of Law & Order: SVU), but I was very impressed with his evolution into a more dramatic role. He portrays his conflicted character with heart and his chemistry with a caring and optimistic Zoe Saldana is warm and genuine without being sappy.
Throughout the film, we see chapters from Rory’s life as well as the old man’s. Their tales are so well woven together, that, although they are vastly different, they both carry messages about love, loss and the cost of simply living an average life. In addition to these two perspectives, we are also interrupted by another character: Clay Hammond (played by Dennis Quaid). Hammond is a well-respected author who has recently published a book called The Words, which tells the story of a young man named Rory Jansen and how one lie changed his life forever.
Confused? The whole thing has a sort of surreal feel to it—as though you’re subject to a story within a story within a story. By the end of the film, you’re not entirely sure if Rory and the old man were “real” or if they were simply characters in Hammond’s book. It’s an interesting conclusion and perhaps almost as thought-provoking as the spinning top at the end of “Inception.”
But, while the twist ending may have been thoughtful and symbolic, it really wasn’t necessary. Not only was Quaid’s presence questionable, but his chemistry with an admiring grad student (Olivia Wilde) was awkward and confusing. That’s right. Dennis Quaid and Olivia Wilde. Can you imagine them together? It doesn’t quite work, does it?
However, regardless of a few uncomfortable moments, I enjoyed the film. What works so well is the fact that the story is actually very simple. Yet, by stringing several lives together, that simple story becomes so much more than what any individual could experience alone. Overall, I give this movie three out of five Matt Damons. It’s worth seeing, in my book.