The idiotic melodrama The Words is a maddening contradiction: a film about the publishing industry and a great literary fraud that doesn’t have a literary bone in its body or a thought in its pretty, empty little head. Though set in the literary world and among the suffering souls who populate it, The Words appears to be the work of people who have never actually read a book.
The miscalculation begins with Bradley Cooper, miscast as a passionate young aspiring author (shades of Limitless) who stumbles on a brilliant, undiscovered manuscript inside a bag in a shop in Paris. What literally unbelievable luck! Cooper hasn’t had any success selling his own novels, so rather than go into a line of work better suited to his talents, like male modeling or prostitution, he passes off the musty old novel (by a writer who never published anything, in spite of being a towering literary genius) as his own, and is instantly rocketed to literary super-stardom. Then one day, a decrepit creature slathered in hilariously unconvincing old-man makeup (an abysmally hammy Jeremy Irons) shows up to claim the novel as his own work and share the tedious tale of how he came to write it during his tortured youth as a G.I. and World War II veteran in Paris. But Irons’ tale actually qualifies as a story within a story within a story, as Cooper’s literary chicanery is itself a yarn being told by a successful author (Dennis Quaid), first to an adoring crowd, then to a hot young aspiring author (Olivia Wilde) he hopes to impress/bed.
The Words has no sense of humor or of its own ridiculousness, so its abundant laughs are strictly unintentional. The film is too egregiously, aggressively stupid to be pretentious, even as its overbearing score attempts to give depth and urgency to material no classier than a florid primetime soap opera. With its spiraling story structure, The Words is a Russian nesting doll of unredeemable histrionics, untethered to anything remotely resembling plausible human behavior or honest emotion.