Saturday, September 8, 2012

Oscar Pandering Season Officially Starts With The Words

The Good: Excellent sense of realism, Interesting characters, Wonderful performances
The Bad: Pacing goes off in the late-middle/early-end and never quite recovers.
The Basics: The Words is a legitimate Oscar contender, though it falls apart in the end, it is riveting until it does!

Oscar Pandering Season, a time of year I usually enjoy, is the only major movie releases season that is broken down into two parts. Only a few years ago, Oscar Pandering Season was Thanksgiving through the end of the year. But, in recent years, with the release of films like The Social Network (reviewed here!) and The Help (reviewed here!) in late August and September, other studios have followed suit and realized that they might not have to drop all of their attempts for Best Picture nods right before the Academy voters have to nominate their favorite films of the year! This year, September – which historically was a weaker movie season filled with date movies and horror flicks – is packed with films from both the major studios and art houses that are geared toward getting nominations for Oscars.

The first obvious attempt to score the Oscar nods is The Words. The Words has a number of elements that would make it a fine Best Picture nominee and is lightyears better than The Artist (reviewed here!), though it is not a truly great movie. Bradley Cooper getting a Best Actor nomination and Jeremy Irons getting (I’d lean, at this point toward him winning) a Best Supporting Actor nod are pretty sure bets. The Words makes excellent use out of them and, very briefly, Zoe Saldana. Honestly, Zoe Saldana and Bradley Cooper suddenly started popping up in everything, so it is pretty amazing that it has taken them this long to appear in a movie together!

Clay Hammond is a famous author who is reading his new novel, The Words to a captivated audience of the literary elite. The story of his novel focuses on Rory Jansen, a writer who will win the American Fellowship Of Arts And Letters award. Five years before that, he is a struggling novelist who moves into a New York City loft with his girlfriend, Dora. Struggling with his writing for years, he is eventually financially cut off by his father, who insists he get a regular paying job. Rory starts work at a major publishing house working in the mailroom and he spends his days delivering packages throughout the building, which exhausts him until his writing aspirations are pretty much dead.

But on his honeymoon in Paris, he finds an old leather briefcase and Dora buys it for him. Returning home, he learns that a prestigious agency is eager to meet with him and when he attends that meeting, he is heartbroken to learn that his submitted novel is great, but not marketable. So, Rory begins putting his life in order and when he is filing papers into the briefcase, he discovers a manuscript there. That manuscript moves him and when he becomes obsessed with it, he transcribes it on his computer. There, Dora finds it and insists that he publish it. While Rory tries initially to tell her the truth, her pride in “his” abilities leads him to promote the manuscript as his own and one favor from the in-house agent, Joseph Cutler, puts him on the path that will make him a huge success. But all of his success teeters when he meets an old man: the author of the mysteriously found manuscript!

The Words is poignant in its realism, both for the continual rejection of being a writer and the strain that the poverty of the young writer puts on relationships. Dora and Rory do not have it easy and it does not take long before it becomes clear that (after a certain point) Dora is financially supporting the couple. In fact, one of the weaknesses in The Words is how it fails to explore the struggle Dora might have in supporting Rory, especially as they live an impoverished lifestyle. Say what you will about women’s lib, but the psychological backlash against a woman supporting an artistic husband is pretty huge and that The Words neglects to address that explicitly weakens an otherwise powerfully realistic experience that dominates the first half of the film.

The sense of realism is compelling and, for those who have lived it, potentially difficult to watch. Co-writers and directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal absolutely nail the reality of constant rejection and the sense of constant strain it puts on a relationship. The first half of The Words should be mandatory viewing for anyone who is considering getting into a relationship with a serious writer.

Dennis Quaid draws the short straw for the acting and character fronts. His character, Clay Hammond, all but admits that he is useless to the piece. Hammond serves, more often than not, as the narrator and it speaks to the use of actors as tools for selling the film to audiences that Olivia Wilde manages to get billing as high as she does for the narrator’s seductress, Daniella. Quaid does what he can with the lame roll, but part of the problem with The Words comes from the movie shifting focus from his characters to him.

Conversely, Zoe Saldana’s Dora has a significant presence only in the first act of The Words, but she shines in the role. Saldana’s Dora is something the actress is not known for; subtle, quiet, nuanced. In the dishwashing scene she shares with Bradley Cooper is a powerful emotional expression between their characters largely because of her body language. Jeremy Irons dominates the second act as The Old Man in much the same way. While it is fairly obvious who he is from the opening moments of the film, when Irons’s character follows Rory to Central Park, he begins to steal the show.

But it is Bradley Cooper who is charged with making The Words work and he pulls it off. For sure, the movie has problems – largely by trying to make Hammond more important than he actually is to the viewers – but Cooper is not one of them. Cooper makes the fictional character of Rory Jansen memorable and intriguing. Never before have I seen Bradley Cooper pull off quiet and emotional the way he does in The Words and he is truly magnificent in the role.

The Words may be Oscar nomination bait, but it kicks off the season by setting the bar high enough to make the next few months an exciting time to go to the movies. And, The Words is so engaging that by the time it takes a turn for the problematic, the viewer is already hooked and we, like Daniella, must know how it ends.

For other films focusing on writers, please check out my reviews of:
Young Adult


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. I loved "The Words" and think it is a masterpiece. However, it received mostly very bad reviews when it opened in September so I do not think it will receive any nominations. I of course think Jeremy irons is excellent in the role of The Old Man... but I also sadly think he will not be nominated. The reviews were just so terrible.

    1. Thank you so much for reading! Yeah, "The Words" may have jumped the gun in trying to get out in front of the pack. However, releasing the DVD now - as the nominations process has begun - could help its chances.

  2. I enjoyed and was greatly suprised by "The Words" too!!

    Gumby's horse


    1. I'm surprised it got forgotten this award's season!

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!