Editor’s note: With The Words hitting theaters today, brush up on our Sundance review of the film, first published on January 26, 2012.
Writing is a difficult task whether you have to do it for school, work, or simply because you have words in you that you must get out. But even if you are a writer, those words don’t always come easily and staring at a blank Word document or page is always intimidating. In The Words, we come to know Rory Jenson (Bradley Cooper), a struggling writer who has penned his first novel – a work that is good, but not good enough to get published. Slightly disheartened and with a new bride Dora (Zoe Saldana) to support, Rory takes a job in the mailroom of a publishing house, hoping to make some contacts and advance his career.
While on their honeymoon in Paris, Dora drags Rory into yet another antique shop and Rory ends up finding an old leather briefcase that is classy and sophisticated – a symbol of a true writer and a gift Dora quickly buys for her new husband. As he later starts filling it with his own work, Rory comes to find a weathered manuscript he neglected to notice when he first purchased the briefcase. Upon reading the first page (typed on the back of a handwritten letter), Rory cannot put the manuscript down and reads it from beginning to end.
Struck by the story, Rory cannot get it out of his head and after being awoken from a dream about the narrative, he takes to his computer to type the story out just to “feel the words pass through him.” Unfortunately, Dora discovers the story and thinks its Rory’s own work, insisting he show it to a publisher, claiming it was a story that needed to be heard. Unable to confess the truth after seeing how much the story moved her, Rory agrees and his entire world changes.
Directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal (who also penned the script) take an interesting approach to a narrative that may have been a bit too ambitious for the duo. The film works well enough, but plays almost as three different films about the lives of three different people with a story that ties them all together. The Words would have been better served if they cut between the story of a writer who finds someone else’s story all narrated by another writer (Dennis Quaid’s Clay Hammond) more often rather than focusing on each story almost exclusively at times.
The themes of creativity, ownership, and integrity are interesting, important, and certainly explored here (particularly at the hands of Jeremy Irons, who plays the Old Man whose story Rory finds), but seemed to be left a bit too open-ended rather than taking a solid stance on any of the topics. Cooper is decent here as one of the primary leads and the heartbreak that plays across his face when Dora points out the price of stealing someone else’s worlds and reaping their success meant it robbed himself of his own creativity was palpable and will stay with moviegoers long after the slightly ambiguous ending of the film.
The Upside: Regardless of your opinion of the abnormally structured narrative, it definitely sparked an interesting conversation after the screening from those on either end of the spectrum and if the goal of the film was to spark debate, it was achieved handily.
The Downside: While the structure of the narrative is an interesting concept, it is not carried out particularly well here.
On the Side: Cooper and Klugman have been best friends since childhood.