No actor lives and breathes insincerity better than Bradley Cooper — which ought to make this film’s theme of intellectual dishonesty reverberate more for us. What it tends to do, however, is reinforce the nasty suspicion that The Words is a cheat, betraying its own supposed indictment of the methods of fiction as a con game. By the time this film ends with the dull glory of a Dennis Quaid monologue (an actor equally adept at playing phonies), it begins to dawn on us that, in Hollywood, no topic has become more tiresome than benighted writers. Once upon a time, films like Barton Fink and The Shining thrilled us with the monstrous despair of a well-meaning hack sitting alone, beating his head against a typewriter. By now, movies about suffering scribes who have nothing to say but end up being famous for saying it seem like salt rubbed in the wounds of those of us who have to actually work for a living.
The story, constructed like Russian nesting dolls, opens with Quaid reading from his novel, which tells the story of an unpublished writer (Cooper) who discovers an old manuscript, a novel thinly based on the supposedly tragic (though really just sad and pointless) life of a GI in Paris (played by Jeremy Irons). This would be a good film if all these stories merged in one grand flourish of irony or revelation. But they don’t, and it isn’t. Instead, it ends with Quaid.
Worse, this film supposedly explores the thin line between forgery and blockbuster formula but instead comes painfully close to a few recent films, like Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and the German film Lila, Lila. The uncredited thefts are petty, though, since the writer/director team couldn’t even make a clever film from obvious borrowings. The thudding sound you just heard was my head against my keyboard, realizing how much time I’ve wasted on something so verbose and yet unimportant.