September 07, 2012

The Words

Don't sorry, honey. Hangover III comes out next year.

Grade: C –
Director: Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Ben Barnes and Jeremy Irons
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.

I like to envision the developmental scene behind a film self-indulgent enough to call itself The Words. It starts with a couple of fresh-faced, first-time writers/directors, Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman (nephew of Jack), serving up their romantic-drama about anguished writers to be ground through the Sundance sausage maker. Enter a trio of young actors—Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Olivia Wilde—looking for the right portal for their entry into “serious moviemaking.” Snare a fading name like Dennis Quaid, looking for one more prestige project en route to a latter-day career of supporting roles in G.I. Joe sequels, ‘80s remakes and TV series. Hire Marcelo Zarvos—a poor producer’s Alexandre Desplat—to wind up the Oscar Trax 2000 and crank out an incessant, string-laden score that practically wails, “This is important!” And finally, imagine the day they all find out that a bona fide Oscar winner had signed onto the project: “We got Irons…We got Irons!”

But, a funny thing happened on the way to the Kodak Theatre. Although blessed with an intriguing premise rife with ethical and morality conundrums, The Words never becomes more three-dimensional than, well, words on a page. The principal storyline dovetails off a book reading by celebrated author Clay Hammond (Quaid) to an adoring audience that includes Daniella (Wilde), a comely, college-age literati groupie.

Hammond’s titular novel is about Rory Jansen (Cooper), an aspiring writer looking for his big break and also in the throes of newlywed bliss with his wife, Dora (Saldana). During their Parisian honeymoon, the couple pays homage to a plaque honoring Ernest Hemingway just before Dora buys her husband a tattered satchel that, unbeknownst to anyone, contains a yellowed, unsigned manuscript that Rory immediately recognizes as transcendent literature. Circumstances contrive to have Rory innocently type the story into his computer and then not-so-innocently present it to a literary agent who leaps at the chance to publish the book to great acclaim.

Rory’s new-found high life is upended when an old man (Jeremy Irons) follows Rory to Central Park and reveals that not only does he know of Rory’s subterfuge, but that the geezer is the actual author of the mysterious tome, the lost chronicle of the old man’s life and star-crossed marriage to a young French girl named Celia (Nora Armezeder) in post-WWII Paris.

It’s emblematic of Sternhal and Klugman’s erratic editing that I went a long time believing Rory’s misappropriated manuscript was actually a long lost Hemingway; maybe that’s also because Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, once lost a suitcase full of the author’s manuscripts at a Paris rail station, an event duplicated in the film. Instead, we get The Old Man and his Celia, one of three diffuse plot strands held together with muddled melodrama, prosaic narration and some of the least convincing scenes of fake crying seen in cinema (from Bradley and Ben Barnes, as the younger Old Man).

There’s a good story lurking in The Words. Unfortunately, the only words most viewers will use to remember the film are, “Wait, isn’t that the one with the guy from The Hangover?”

Neil Morris

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

The cast does their whole best to make everything work and in ways, they succeed, but I think the script and premise was just a bit too tricky for its own good. Nice review Neil.