The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Words

The Words provides a lesson in how to screw up a movie by over-complicating things. Writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal don't seem to trust the strength of their own material. They take what is essentially a very intimate tale and try to turn it into something sweeping and epic. Consequently, the whole thing falls apart, in a way that is confusing and unsatisfying. It's not a stretch to imagine The Words as a great, award-worthy film. Just not in this incarnation.

Bradley Cooper plays struggling writer Rory Jansen. His wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) buys him an old attache case they find in a Parisian antique shop. Unbeknownst to her, Rory discovers a book manuscript inside. Far better than anything he's ever written and seemingly forgotten by the case's previous owner, he retypes the pages into his word processor and submits it to a literary agent. Soon after, the book is published, eventually going on to become a nationwide best-seller. Rory is successful at last. Then an old man (Jeremy Irons, playing a character listed in the credits as The Old Man) tracks him down to reveal that he is the original writer. Suddenly, Rory faces being exposed as a plagiarist, which could cost him his career, as well as his relationship with Dora.

Plagiarism is a fascinating subject. At least, it is to me, given that I had my own battle with a word thief earlier this year. The moral dilemma Rory gets himself into is extremely compelling because we understand his actions are borne out of both insecurity and desperation to be recognized as a good writer. Unfortunately, The Words uses three stories to tell this one story, and two of the stories it uses are dull. Whenever we're following Rory, the movie is engrossing. But we also get protracted flashbacks that tell the tragic story of how the Old Man came to write the book. Then there's another writer named Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) who narrates the story of Rory. (Hey, that rhymes!)

The Old Man flashbacks go on and on, despite the fact that we get the drift very quickly. Clearly, the filmmakers are trying to invest the movie with some sense of grand importance; instead, these sections inspire boredom. They take away from the material that we care about the most, serving as a detour that is both intrusive and unwanted. The stuff with Clay Hammond is just as bad. Olivia Wilde plays some sort of literary groupie who uses her sexual allure to get Hammond to tell her the whole tale. The Words ends with an unbelievably stilted conversation between them that casts doubt over what, exactly, the Quaid character's function is in the movie. I eventually figured it out on the drive home, although that does nothing to mitigate the I wanna throw something at the screen in anger reaction it evokes.

I'd be lying if I said The Words didn't have good performances. All the actors do fine work fine enough that I wish they'd been in a better, more streamlined movie. If this is ostensibly the story of a struggling writer stealing someone else's good work and paying the price, we don't need all the extraneous stuff. When The Words focused on its core subject, I perked up. When it went off on lackluster tangents which it does for more than half of its running time I grew impatient. Really impatient. Plagiarism is a fantastic topic for a movie, as 2003's Shattered Glass proved. The Words gussies the topic up in fancy dressing that ultimately detracts from any impact its exploration of it might have had.

( out of four)

The Words is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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