Philly-born screenwriters Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal locked in a familiar mug to marquee their directorial debut: childhood pal Bradley Cooper, whose even keel ends up being the only marketable aspect of a treatment that dances around the point but never nails it. Built like a desultory matryoshka doll, The Words is quite proud of its tiered storytelling, but each plotline succeeds in nothing more than muddying up its mates.
The tale begins with pompous author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reading from his book, which shares a name with the movie; the best-seller haunts floundering writer Rory Jansen (Cooper), who can’t sell a manuscript — support from his wife (Zoe Saldana) and father (J.K. Simmons) be damned. Then he discovers an un-bylined novel of great lyricism inside a beat-up attaché he purchased in Paris. Jansen titles it The Window Tears, gets it published and immediately becomes the babe of the literary world — all before the book’s true creator, hilariously credited as “The Old Man” (Jeremy Irons, boasting sky-high Irons levels), emerges from obscurity to claim what’s his.
Jumping from Hammond’s Oleanna-style repartee with a foxy grad student (Olivia Wilde), Jansen’s handwringing and the schmaltzy Nicholas Sparks starter story that inspired The Old Man’s masterwork — Love! War! Paris! Typewriters! — The Words is loud when it should be subtle and vague when it should be direct. Anyone hoping for Klugman and Sternthal to lash together their trio of narrative playthings will be disappointed to watch them float off like poorly tended helium balloons.