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Bradley Cooper in The Words

Movie & Blu-Ray Review: The Words

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The WordsReel Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking
Released in Theaters: Sept. 7, 2012
Released on DVD/Blu-ray: Dec. 24, 2012
Genre: Drama, Romance
Runtime: 97 minutes
Directed by: Brian Klugman
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, J.K. Simmons, Jeremy Irons, Ben Barnes, Nora Arnezeder
Official Site: The Words

BUY IT: The Words [Blu-ray]

When it comes to runtimes, my usual complaint is that a film runs too long and drifts away from the storyline’s focus. With The Words, however, it’s the opposite. Ninety-seven minutes isn’t long enough to fully explore the characters, their relationships, and how the choices they’ve made impact their lives.

I kept thinking (because I often talk to filmmakers in my head during movies), just go a little further. Why are these people doing what they’re doing? Show us their motivations and make us pull for them. It’s almost there, but never quite makes the final push to fully immerse us in their lives. A bit of restructuring might have helped. There were too many stories within stories, and too many questions left unanswered.

Bradley Cooper plays Rory Jansen, a man whose lifelong dream to be a published author has never been realized. Oh, he tries. He spends nights hammering out words on his laptop and never gives up hope. But things aren’t easy. To make ends meet, he has to borrow money from his dad (J.K. Simmons), who finally tells him to grow up, get a job, and be a man.

One day, Rory stumbles across an ancient, dog-eared manuscript hidden in an old leather portfolio that his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) bought for him on their honeymoon. The words in the manuscript move him deeply, and he sits down and types the whole thing out on his laptop, word for word, no comma out of place. When Dora accidentally comes across it on the computer, she believes it to be his, and begs him to take it to the publishing house where he works (that job his Dad told him to go get).

The urge to become a published writer is too strong, and Rory gets caught up in the fiction of his own story. He takes it to the publisher, who loves it, and Rory soon becomes a publishing sensation. It’s the life he’s always dreamed of. Or … is it? He starts second-guessing his choices when an old man (Jeremy Irons, who’s brilliant, as always) has a few words of his own about the book.

Bradley Cooper in The Words

Bradley Cooper in The Words

If you love books or publishing or words, you should see this movie, though I do have a few gripes about it. Part of the problem is that the story is told through famous writer Clayton Hammond (Dennis Quaid), who’s reading his book, The Words, to an audience. We never really learn whether the book is fiction or nonfiction, nor whether the real-life characters are supposed to be the fictional characters. There are too many layers, too many stories within stories, and not enough answers.

That said, the players do a fine job with what they’re given. It’s exciting to see Cooper move beyond The Hangover franchise and take on more thoughtful roles. Watch for a couple of his current films, Silver Linings Playbook and The Place Beyond the Pines, to play into the upcoming awards season.

Saldana gives a solid performance as a wife who wants to support her husband and his dreams, but who perhaps also gets caught up in the fame of living with a publishing rock star. I would have loved to know a little more about their relationship. We really only get a glimpse of why they do what they do.

The standout performance is Irons. I always get the feeling that he lives and breathes his characters, whether it’s an understated role like this one or a bold role like his portrayal of Rodrigo Borgia in Showtime’s The Borgias. Scary good, in more ways than one.

Quaid seems to play the same character in a lot of his movies. Whether it’s Rev. Moore in 2011’s Footloose or the dad in Soul Surfer, I always leave the theater thinking, oh, that’s Dennis Quaid playing a strict minister and a supportive dad. He’s always there in his roles.

Olivia Wilde plays an adoring fan who goes home with Clayton after the reading. Frankly, I’m not even sure why she’s in this movie. I guess she makes us question certain things about him and his book, but we never really get any answers.

Also have to mention Ben Barnes and Nora Arnezeder, who play characters within the story-within-a-story. Their war-time romance is so intriguing and their characters so heartfelt and captivating, I almost wish the movie had been all about them, without the current-day plot.

So yes, The Words has some problems, but it’s still worth seeing if you love books or words or any of these actors. Just don’t go into it expecting to be completely fulfilled by the story. The PG-13 rating is on target and ok for kids 13 and older.

Side Note Trivia: The director, Brian Klugman, is a longtime friend of Cooper’s who played the role of awkward teen Kirby in Frasier. He’s also Jack Klugman’s nephew.

BLU-RAY BONUS FEATURES: 

The Words contains four featurettes, previews, and a UV digital copy voucher. Also included is the film’s theatrical (1:37:09) and extended (1:42:41) cuts.

  • Unabridged: A Look Behind the Scenes of The Words (HD, 8:30): Cast and crew discuss the story, the story behind the story, characters, the performances, recreating 1940s Paris, and the ending.
  • A Gentleman’s Agreement (HD, 1:44): A small look at the Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal, and Bradley Cooper collaboration. Also: a look at the script and the sense of teamwork on the set.
  • Clay and Daniella (HD, 1:12): A brief look at the Clay and Daniella characters.
  • The Young Man and Celia (HD, 1:09): A short look at these characters’ stories in the film.
  • Previews: Seven Psychopaths, Robot & Frank, Now is Good, 7500, Hope Springs, and Sparkle.

PARENT DETAILS: 

Sex/Nudity: Couples kiss and make out, but no nudity.

Violence/Gore: A few heated arguments. A man trashes a room in anger. A baby dies from an illness, leaving the parents grief-stricken.

Profanity: One “f*ck.” A few uses of “sh*t,” “goddamn,” “ass,” “bullsh*t,” and “hell.”

Drugs/Alcohol: Adults drink socially at parties and dinner. A few scenes show adults getting drunk. People smoke cigarettes in scenes set in the past.

JANE’S REEL RATING SYSTEM:
One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.

Jane Boursaw is the founder and editor-in-chief of Reel Life With Jane. Her credits include hundreds of print and online publications, including The New York Times, People Magazine, Variety, Moviefone, TV Squad and more. Follow her on Twitter at @reellifejane.

Jane Boursaw has written posts on Reel Life With Jane.


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2 comments

  1. That’s too bad they didn’t make The Words longer. In this era of unnecessary 3 hour films, 2 hours wouldn’t be too much for most audiences. Despite the flaws you pointed out though, I think I’ll still give it a try.

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