“The Words” is a Complex Portrait of a Struggling Artist


Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana star in “The Words”

Someone once said, “Write what you know.” The Words does a pretty good job utilizing this phrase. Directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal’s touching film follows successful writer Clayton Hammond (portrayed by Dennis Quaid) giving a reading of his newest book called “The Words” to the public.

We are introduced to his newest story, which centers around struggling New York writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) who tries to make ends meet for him and his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) while attempting but failing to make it into the writing world. He stumbles upon an old briefcase that nests a manuscript that was written by a young man (Ben Barnes) who had never gotten published. Rory uses this as his own work and becomes a huge success – a dream he has wanted forever. But things become complicated when an old man (Jeremy Irons) shows up in his life and confronts Rory of the consequence he will have to live with forever due to his decision to claim the manuscript as his own.

The cinematography provides a beautiful work of art that captures the scenery very well. The scenes switch back and forth to 3 different locations: Hammond’s life in nonfictional New York, Jansen’s life in fictional New York, and the young man’s life in Paris. During these setting changes, the overall color of the film changes to fit the moods of the characters. As well, the surrounding props vary from setting to setting.

In Hammond’s world, it’s champagne toasts, crowded socials, and luxurious items that scream success. However, the lighting is bright, and what accents his surroundings are white, cold walls. We see a contrast when we switch over to Rory’s life as scenes offer darker hues and dimmer lighting with various furniture that surround all his walls which at times feels cluttered. This creates different moods for the audience and shows the contrasting features and lifestyle between both Clay and Rory – Clay having all this success in his career but left with a limited personal life while Rory has limited to no success in his career with a personal, simple life that most would dream of. It is interesting, though, to note that although both men’s lives differ from one another, both lives showcase the results of choices we make and the outcomes we live with. As for the young man’s life in Paris, scenes are grainy, but the color hue of each scene differ greatly and beautifully as we reach a conclusion to his story. Also, the outfit choices are classic and bring back a vintage look and feel.

Yet, the flow of the story lags on and sometimes becomes a puzzling confusion that doesn’t seem to add up. For the most part, there really isn’t a beginning or an end. Thus, it leaves much unanswered in both Rory and Clay’s life and whether or not all of Clay’s new book was a work of borrowed fact or just plain fiction. However, the film does provides a good screenplay with a set of great actors that portray the life of a struggling artist (or writer in this case) very well.

The Words will not be everyone’s cup of tea. For most, the film will be a long story of nothingness that doesn’t provide much hope or conclusion. But for some, it will be a wonderful piece of work that hits the heart emotionally and effectively.

This film is rated PG-13 and runs 1 hour and 36 minutes.
Grade: B-

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2 thoughts on ““The Words” is a Complex Portrait of a Struggling Artist

    • Thanks so much :)! I had also read negative reviews for the film before seeing it, but I went with my gut and enjoyed the film for the most part. The movie may feel slow at times though, and it may get you wanting more. But it’s a really nice conversation starter! Let me know what you think of the movie if you see it soon!

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