When a writer writes about a writer writing, it can often seem like they could just be lacking in ideas and writing about themselves. ‘The Words’ takes this a step further by being about one writer (Dennis Quaid) who has written about another writer (Bradley Cooper).
Framed as a public reading of his book by Quaid, it follows Cooper as a struggling writer who fails to find a publisher for his debut novel. Then, by chance he finds an old manuscript in an antique briefcase he got on his honeymoon in Paris. Naturally the story within is a masterpiece that he decides to pass off as his own, leading to huge critical and commercial success, until an old man (Jeremy Irons) confronts him about the true nature of the book.
Call me cynical, but the whole narrative smacked of a couple of debutant writer/directors who couldn’t come up with a story substantial enough for a whole film. So instead decided to wrap several superficial layers around it to try and disguise its slightness, making it a story within a story within a story, while at the same time having characters within the outer layers talk about how brilliant the central story is. The snippets we get of the book hardly seem like a work of genius anyway.
To its advantage, ‘The Words’ has assembled a fairly impressive cast, who all do the best they can with the material, particularly Jeremy Irons, and having him narrating a story is always going to improve it.
Ultimately, the scenes with Quaid and Olivia Wilde are basically pointless, but the rest could have worked better if it had anything to say on the idea of fraud and plagiarism, but it doesn’t really, and ends on a mildly ambiguous (though not in a good way), and unsatisfactory note.