Movie review: A writer has moral hangover in 'The Words'

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When aspiring author Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) goes to his father asking for a loan -- again -- he gets it, along with clear-eyed advice in "The Words."

Maybe Rory should think of writing as a hobby rather than a profession and he needs to find a job, something steady. After all, "Another part of being a man is accepting your own limitations," dad (J.K. Simmons) reminds him.

'The Words'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana.
  • Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking.

Rory takes a job as a mail clerk at a publishing house, marries his beautiful live-in girlfriend and biggest supporter, Dora (Zoe Saldana), and keeps plugging and typing away. Unlike the mad caretaker in "The Shining," Rory is actually writing but no one is interested in a book deemed too artistic, subtle and interior.

Everything changes with another submission that makes him the toast of the literary town. The only problem is, he didn't write it. He found it and claimed it as his own but, in this case, possession is not nine-tenths of the law.

What happens to Rory and the others tethered to the best-selling, critically hailed novel that bears his name (and shame) is at the heart of "The Words," a surprisingly entertaining and engaging movie.

Watching someone write, whether on screen or at the next desk, is not scintillating, but "The Words" is never static. Its multiple strands and time periods keep moving as it confronts loss and heartbreak and examines destiny, duplicity and ambition.

Mr. Cooper, who easily projects intelligence and intensity as demonstrated in "Limitless," manages to be disreputable and sympathetic at the same time. He is joined by a quirkily intriguing cast that also counts Ms. Saldana, Jeremy Irons, Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian in the second "Chronicles of Narnia" adventure), Dennis Quaid and Olivia Wilde.

Directed and written by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, childhood friends of Mr. Cooper, "The Words" offers a story within a story within a story within a story, with an ending open to interpretation or possible frustration. It's like a relay race where the baton is passed from one set of characters to the next, and the least satisfying leg involves Ms. Wilde as an inquisitive admirer of a celebrated writer.

But what "The Words" does is put the moviegoer at the keyboard, asking what would you do? It may not be as simple as you think, as the struggling Rory confesses to his wife, "I'm not who I thought I was, and I'm terrified I never will be."

Writing is all about making choices and so, too, is life. And, sometimes, when you make the wrong decision, you have to decide if you want to fix it or even if you can.

Life would be so much easier if it just came with a backspace or delete key.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published September 7, 2012 4:00 AM


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