A movie about fiction and fictions, “The Words” is a true talkie.
That’s a fine thing when the words are spoken by a battered-looking Jeremy Irons, in an engaging performance as the older and wiser edition of a young would-be author.
Working on multiple levels, writer-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal attempt to find profound themes of choices, self-awareness, morality and deception.
But as it happens, their true talents lie closer to the surface, in literary mystery. When they move beyond structuring a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, the philosophical waters become too deep and murky.
Did someone say superficial? That’s the cue for Bradley Cooper in all his glib insincerity. Here that gets more of a workout than in many comedies, because as Rory Jansen he has to carry the main tale while trying to seem like a nice guy.
Although he is spending a lot of time typing away in a New York garret, then fielding rejections from agents and publishing houses, life isn’t that bad for Rory. His skeptical father, the briefly seen J.K. Simmons, reluctantly writes checks to cover Rory’s rent. Also, Rory has Zoë Saldana draped all over him.
Although she eventually redeems herself in a couple of meatier scenes, for much of “The Words,” Saldana’s function as Dora seems to be decorative dingbat. Rory’s girlfriend and eventual wife, Dora stares smilingly, coos reassuringly and beckons butt-shakingly.
As Rory is coping with all this, we have already met the narrator, or a narrator. In a crowded theater, celebrated author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) is reading selections from his new novel.
The audience is appreciative, especially glamorous graduate student Daniella (Olivia Wilde), herself an aspiring novelist who serves some campus literary function, perhaps as editor of “The Runway Review” or “Notes on ‘The Real Housewives of Barnard College.’”
Perhaps a better description of Daniella and her fellow auditors is overly appreciative, because the book Hammond is reading to them is as dry and featureless as Death Valley. In delivering it, Quaid seems to be staggering under the literary sun.
The in-joke is that, even as struggling Rory Jansen finally catapults to literary stardom with a novel from left field, the tale that Clay Hammond is relating is that of Rory and his breakthrough.
Say, Rory may be fictional, but he still has a real story! “The Words” quickly turns back to it. Except that Rory’s hit novel contains not one word written by him.
On their honeymoon is Paris, where they of course visited Ernest Hemingway’s residence, Dora bought Rory a fine old leather briefcase. Only back at home rummaging around, did he open the compartment contained a yellowed manuscript. He read it, entranced. Then he turned on his computer.
Who could have guessed that it was the story of yet another would-be writer, an American soldier in Paris at the end of World War II? He meets a beautiful waitress at a café and the rest is, as they say, history. And “The Words” is a movie just waiting for someone to say “as they say.”