Monday, January 28, 2013

The Words Review: Bloody Awful

I went to a friend's house to hang out. I almost never use cable services to order movies, but Rachel wasn't in the mood for any of my DVDs and I wasn't in the mood for hers. So we looked through all of the On-Demand film offerings, and Rachel was interested in The Words. She said it sounded good, and I was convinced when I looked at the cast: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons... We both figured we were in for a good film.

We were both wrong.

The Words seemed to start off well enough - the cinematography was pretty, with little dialogue, scenes of Bradley and Zoe preparing for a big social event; he's getting an award, but he looks unhappy... and the rain creates an atmosphere.

However, it still invited some mockery early on because of the intrusive voiceover work. After a few moments of Cooper and Saldana, Dennis Quaid's voice pops in to narrate what's occurring on screen, and it just didn't work. Even as I was gamely sinking in to it, the narration felt kind of odd, describing what didn't need to be described - Quaid's voice adding nothing.

It began as a simple, minor mistake, having the VO tell us that an old man is watching a successful writer as he gets into a limo. Great, we now know that this is something important. As the picture goes on, such clumsy narration is used until it gets funny...

And, oh god, the story! On its surface, The Words is a highly-clever story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within- ugh! I'll just describe the entire plot, because you shouldn't have to sit through it yourself:

Bradley plays a struggling writer with a great girlfriend (Saldana). He writes a fine novel, but an agent who meets with Bradley tells him that his work is "too bold" for a first-time novelist; no one, we're told, would tolerate such out-of-the-box art. Bradley struggles with money issues (though we have no idea why Zoe isn't contributing financially, herself), which he resolves by taking a mailroom job at a publishing company. He also marries his girl, and honeymoons in Paris, which he can somehow afford.

On this trip, Zoe buys her man a lovely leather satchel (with her money?). Later, while alone, Bradley notices something inside the seams of the bag and finds a complete manuscript for a novel. And it wasn't noticed by anyone for, like, 60 years! Cooper reads this work, and is immediately entranced. But we can't share in his amazement - Quaid's voice jumps in to tell us that "the words" are so effective and awe-inspiring, that they're rapturous.

Bradley types the manuscript into his computer, which later Saldana reads for no reason and without his knowledge. She then yearns for Bradley to publish it, riding over his attempts to simply say "I didn't write it" - like a character written for the sake of excessively ridiculous and forced film conversations. It's like a talent she just developed...

So we now have a story about a life-changing book in which we never see any of the actual text. Instead, we're told how good the writing is, and we watch as the story of the novel is played out for viewers. But we can't even enjoy what we're seeing much, as voices that sound like they're unironically reading trite postcards intrude on those scenes.

The last time I saw this type of literary stupidity was Gus Van Sant's Finding Forrester. Much like the "climax" of FF, this whole time, we've got a work that's supposed to be as moving as the greatest religious texts - but we don't even really hear it for long enough to get any sense of it. Forrester was laughable in how quickly it ditched at trying to create impressive-sounding lines (a bad sign). Here, we only have the extreme assurance of Quaid's voice and the ridiculously over-the-top reactions of the cast to "those words."

The way Quaid says that is ridiculous. Inflection can't make that phrase powerful, certainly not in this context; here, he sounds like he's gonna give an insane giggle and then rub his hands together... So yeah, it sounds both silly and lends itself to jokes ("those words... 'it's free?,'" or "... those naughty words," or "the words 'horsies are pretty?'").

After a bit, we realize that Quaid is a novelist who's reciting crazy-large sections of his latest book before a crowd. I don't know why he's previewing the most crucial parts of his next work, but... but he is. And the story that Quaid recites is the story of Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana and the manuscript that they find! Which is the story of an American WWII soldier who falls in love with a French woman.

That's not a joke. Read the plot if you want to. I'm almost done condensing.

That last story - the one that originates "the words," which are addictive like smack and apparently as momentous as the Kents finding Superman, has the potential to be moving, except that its plots are kind of dumb and... simple. There are certainly many elements in it that could move people, but whenever we might be seduced by this period piece segment, Quaid's voice interjects - or Irons' does - and any magic or connection with that part of the narrative is shattered. Dennis is a perfectly good actor, but he actually reads those words ("those f--kable, f---kable words") like an actor reading a monologue, not like an author reading a novel; the difference is important.

The soldier melodramatically ships back home as the Western Theater ends, then succeeds in returning to his girlfriend (can't you leave the service while still abroad?). They get married, she gets pregnant... and their infant dies soon after its birth.

Too harsh? Too abrupt? Yeah.

This could work, but what follows... Well, thankfully, it wasn't all done in words: next shot, French wife sits mute at the dinner table, and the soldier/husband tries to get her to eat. She's unresponsive, so... he decides to go out. Yes, he leaves his woman without another word, really, and gets drunk on the street, then returns to find his wife left for her family's home (duh).

This utter familial desolation via infant death and dumbf--kery motivates the former soldier (let's call him "Dips--t") to sit at a typewriter which was foreshadowed during his trite WWII montage and create "the words." Yes, these are those words - the ones that make the reader all a-tizzy, like a letter from Ghandi, ghost-written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and read aloud by MLK. Yup, this pic tries to use literary porn.

Dips--t (Ret.) visits his wife's home, and her emotional scars are then magically healed, in two short scenes, by her husband's writing - which I guess is just the biography of their loss?... Oh, no! she took the wrong satchel from a train car, and doesn't have the manuscript anymore! In the wake of this artistic tragedy, Lance Cpl. Dips--t (Ret.) snaps at his newly-recovered woman and they split up.

So, I guess they never saw the Columbo episode where Peter Falk uses typewriter ribbon to recreate what was typed onto it earlier?...

Next, we're back at the timeline from the beginning: Bradley is a lauded-but-unhappy writer. He's confronted by Jeremy Irons in bad old-man makeup - Irons was that young soldier! (no s--t, you gave it away with unneeded narration in the first scene) The old man confronts the person who stole his work, but doesn't (for what reason?) accept when Cooper offers to give back the credit for it... B-Coops reveals his deception to his wife, who is pissed off. Next, Cooper, Dips--t of the 21st Century, tells his publisher - who takes a practical approach in one of the most credible scenes of tW.

Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde is a quasi-stalker of her literary hero, Dennis Quaid, a renowned author and dreadful book-reciter. As an already-famous writer, I don't get why he reads out fairly-important portions of his book. She flirts with him in a way that could be confident and bold, or perhaps sociopathic obsession. She wants him to reveal the ending to his newest story. Quaid tries to sleep with her, but in a semi-clumsy way, considering his popularity and good looks.

In this clip, they're great, but they're broken up too much. And a bit dumb.

Bluntly: the people who made this must've thought that they were engaging in something as clever as The Usual Suspects, with the appeal and depth of The English Patient, but with a sort of Amadeus vibe. From the music, to the voiceovers, to the nesting-doll structure and timeline jumps, this is supposed to be a stunning work. Just like "the words" themselves.

Sadly, the film-makers here failed in all their efforts.

As I already stated, the ridiculous narration undermines the impact of most of the emotional scenes. And the story-within-a-story aspect doesn't work, because it's stretched way too far to come across as anything more than an attempt at cleverness, not cleverness itself.

Finally, it all falls apart because the soldier in post-WWII France story might've been interesting, and the Cooper-Saldana story might've been interesting, but they're tied together in a way that feels forced and dumb. And they're added on to an inconsequential plot about Quaid's horny author trying to bed a moderately-creepy Olivia Wilde.

These various narratives are never smart enough or "real" enough or emotional enough to reach a discerning viewer. They trip over each other, in fact, instead of supporting each other. And, though Rachel and I were both open to its premise, I quickly found that my urge to tease and mock the picture grew quickly; that it did not bother the friend sitting next to me made me guess that she, too, realized how silly it all was.

We had had a bit of wine, and I was exhausted by a busy working week. I was fading in and out as the movie neared its final 20 minutes. I fell asleep, and woke up on the couch alone, ready to leave my friend's place and head back home. Seldom have I missed the end of a picture like this, and it has been even more rare that I missed the last 10-15 minutes of a pic and felt like I missed nothing at all. I read the rest of the story synopsis the next morning, and considered myself lucky for getting a brief rest before getting back into NYC's 24/7 train system.

All in all, The Words is not in any way a good picture, was not a good experience, and was a misuse of the time and efforts of everyone involved. The cast is fine, the footage is filmed well, but this movie does not work, and it neither entertains nor enlightens the viewer.

No wonder my eyes closed! My brain was saying "good night!" to Lance Cpl. Dips--t (Ret.), and Zoe Saldana's nice performance (though she should've had more screen time), and Cooper, Scion of Dips--t. I guess I escaped the film through sleep.

Please, please, please, watch something better and enjoy that. At this point, Tango & Cash is an objectively superior film, as it has low expectations and yet still entertains its audience in a way that seems intentional. God, even mocking this picture couldn't get me interested enough to stay awake... In short: run, don't walk, away from The Words. You'll be happy you did...


  1. I demand that you apologize to Tango & Cash! Sounds like it deserves better than to be mentioned in the same sentence as this piece of crap.

    Weird thing: this actually makes me curious to see Silver Linings Playbook. It's rare that America gets as hard a sell on someone as a Hollywood Leading Man as we've gotten with Bradley Cooper (the A-Team movie could easily have been subtitled "A Man Called Face"...or would that have been "A-Team Chronicles: Face"?).

    Now that he's been nominated for a golden statuette by the Academy, that's gonna get even worse. It's hard to imagine someone whose range goes from "shallow dick" to "smug shallow dick" being a bonafide pick for one of the five best performances of the year.

    1. I am interested in Silver Linings, too, if only because it's received the right kind of criticism - when I hear people making the kinds of compliments and complaints that they have, it often means that I'll find the film worthwhile.

      I have to say, you should've seen Bradley back in his Alias days. Then you'd understand why I'm really happy for his success - it's gotten a touch excessive, and he needs to do something a bit bigger than what I've seen already to validate the excessive media push, but still...

      Tango & Cash does deserve better, but it's also not a good movie and I shouldn't pretend otherwise. It is, however, a lot of fun, and Kurt Russell can scarecely do any wrong...

    2. Cooper should be a TV star. He was great in Alias and in Kitchen Confidential. I want him to find an HBO vehicle like Buscemi did. TV just gives an actor more range and provides more of a showcase these days.

    3. Well, I never saw Kitchen Confidential, but presumably he wants to alternate smaller work with bigtime paycheck material. H

      He had a lower profile this year, I believe, but I don't know that the precursor to some HBO/AMC-type series. Oddly, it might be semi-daunting, as when those get popular/successful, the lead actor isn't really going anywhere for a while.

  2. I did hear that The Words was a godawful mess so I have some pity on you for watching it but on the other hand, you did have a good laugh about it.

    My sister and I clicked onto the original Amityville Horror late last night and she was laughing at James Brolin(due to his mannerisms being way too similar to Will Ferrell in A Deadly Adoption) seriously hard. Sometimes, you have to take your mirth moments when you can.

    That said, I think you're being a little too harsh on Finding Forrester. Yes, it have a load of flaws but it means well there. Although, in terms of an older man confronting the snotty private school scenes, Al Pacino "I would take a flame thrower to this place!" in Scent of a Woman kicks Sean Connery's butt in his FF grandstand moment.


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