by Stephen Whitty
As a writer, all you have are your words.
You may have gone to the best MFA programme (or never finished high school), gotten a grant and a berth at a writer’s retreat (or waited tables and shared a cheap studio), but eventually it still all comes down to you and a blank page and the words you put on it.
So they’d better be yours.
Rory Jansen is finding that out, painfully. Young, talented and ambitious, he was everything except what he most wanted to be: published. Then he found someone else’s lost, anonymous manuscript and submitted it as his own, and suddenly he was famous, and rich.
And in serious trouble, once the real author appeared.
That’s the story of The Words and what strikes you about it at first is its tricky structure, like a set of Russian nesting dolls.
Because when the real author shows up — known here only as the Old Man — he tells his story, in flashback. And then we realise that both he and Jansen are characters in yet another story that another writer, Clay Hammond, is reading to an adoring audience.
It’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma — wrapped, unfortunately, in a too slick, too pretty, too pat movie.
The setup is clever, or at least gives the appearance of cleverness. But there are a few plot holes (when one mysterious character needs to be found he simply is, without explanation). And the framing story and “surprise” ending are both predictable and unsatisfying.
There are some nice performances in all this, however, particularly Zo? Saldana as Rory’s blindly adoring wife, and Jeremy Irons as the ripped-off writer. As the other authors, Bradley Cooper and Dennis Quaid play solidly but merely to type — one a bleary-eyed fellow without any backbone, the other a grouchy middle-aged nursing a grievance.
Give co-writers and directors Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman (yes, Jack’s nephew) credit for assembling this cast. They also get a lot out of what must have been a quick shoot and a small budget (with Montreal passing well for Paris, less convincingly for Manhattan).
But I don’t think they realise just how indefensible Rory’s actions are, or how limited he is as a character. Protagonists do not have to be likable; they do, however, need to be interesting, and Rory’s combination of whiny privilege and adolescent impulsiveness doesn’t entrance.
Their movie is attractive and full of good actors, and at least it seems to be about something. But again, in writing — and that includes screenplays — all that matters, in the end, are the words on the page. And the ones here don’t add up to anything more than a mostly middling drama.