One of the complaints about the movies which I hear most often comes down to this: commercial films are made for teenagers. Well, most general-release movies are made for young people. But when studios make movies for adults, they have trouble selling tickets.
Too often movies for the middle-aged—for example, last month’s “Hope Springs” (with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) and last weekend’s “The Words” (with Jeremy Irons and Dennis Quaid)—just aren’t very good movies. This is additionally disheartening.
“The Words” is about stories within stories, all of them artificial in the sense that none of them, or only one of them, actually ever happens, even in the reality of the film. Quaid plays Hammond, a writer out promoting a novel apparently by reading it all, in person, to adults spending an evening out. Young Daniella (Olivia “13” Wilde) is a would-be Hammond groupie who gets her major professor’s ticket for one of the readings and questions Hammond afterwards.
Hammond’s book, The Words, is about an aspiring but often rejected young writer who marries, lives in a garret, discovers a manuscript so old it was typewritten, and is maneuvered by fate into submitting it as his own. When published, this book is a huge success and Rory (Bradley Cooper) finds himself admired and out reading and signing.
He is approached by an old man (called “The Old Man” and played by a grizzled Irons). T.O.M. claims to have written the piece, recalling his own actual World War II romance with a French girl, Celia, their marriage, his writing in a garret, and the birth and death of their child.
While Celia was away in the country, trying to get over the death, T.O.M. wrote the manuscript quickly. But then Celia lost the typewritten book, and the two of them separated. Why does T.O.M. tell this story to Rory? Apparently just to make him feel guilty. Which he does.
Rory confesses to his wife, apparently causing a rift with her as substantial as the one between T.O.M. and Celia, and to his editor. He even seeks the old guy out and offers him the money the book has made.
Meanwhile we are finding out that Hammond is separated from his wife. No mention of his having written in a garret, but I suppose that goes without saying in a story this romantic about writing. So Hammond seems to have generated two fictional versions of himself—The Old Man and Rory—and used them in a book—The Words—which is as popular as was the book T.O.M. wrote and Rory took credit for.
Except that the movie seems to suggest late that The Words isn’t complete. The groupie wants Hammond to tell her what happens next. He has a couple of what ifs, and then asks her to tell him how the story should end.
So the movie is like “Inception” as written by Nicholas Sparks. It can be dull for fairly long stretches, and it is always very, very gentle, as if it doesn’t much want to disturb its slumbering ticket-holders. The acting is OK—it is a surprise to see Wilde playing such a wholesome kind of groupie. But even Irons can’t read life into lines like “For a time they tried to patch things up together, but you can’t erase the past.”
Cliche language, then. Another self-conscious story. And nothing much in the way of striking images or involving action. Movies like this one always go nostalgic about early twentieth century Paris. But surely manly sentimentality got worked to death years ago.
Now, “The Words” is not a bad movie, or one without interest. But writers-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal need to do more than eliminate explosions and cast adults as central characters if they are going to please post-graduates who somehow find their ways into movie theaters.