I love movies. I love books. Often, there is the opportunity to see a movie based on a book, whether its the weepy Bridges of Madison County (movie better than the book!) to Burglar based on Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series (books waaaay better than the movie). But rarely is there an opportunity to see a movie based on a literary premise. The Words is one such movie. So I hustled myself over to the Lake Theater in beautiful downtown Oak Park, IL, sneaking in a small stash of candy from the conveniently located Fannie May store, just next door.
It looked promising. A plot is often the answer to a “what if?” question. In this case, the “what if?” was based on a real life occurrence: Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, accidentally left a suitcase full of manuscripts on a train. In The Words, the premise is “What if a wife left her husband’s beautiful, soul-stirring manuscript on a train, and it was discovered 50 years later by a struggling writer?”
No surprise, struggling writer submits manuscript as his own, receives great acclaim, gets his own previously-rejected-but-much-deserving-if-not-quite-as-good novels published, and then is confronted about his thievery by the actual author.
The movie is basically a story-within-a-story-within a story. There’s Bradley Cooper, the struggling author who receives the briefcase containing the manuscript from his new wife when honeymooning in Paris. Then there’s the old man, played by Jeremy Irons – a love story of a simple American GI who falls in love in Paris during World War I and comes back to marry his beloved, who pours out his love and grief when his baby daughter dies and heart-broken wife leaves him. And then there’s the framing story – the idea that The Words is a best-selling novel by a famous author (Dennis Quaid), which is being read aloud to us at a book launch/lecture.
Friends, that is too many stories. Like the Escher drawing where two hands, each holding a pencil, is drawing the other hand, it’s cute and only mind-blowing in the most superficial way. And for all the talk of love and all the male-female dynamics in the movie, the romance was not very engaging.
Generally, the actors all do a good job, with Jeremy Irons particularly effective as the old man, while Bradley Cooper exudes charisma. The direction is better than competent. There was one beautiful, heart-tugging scene, well-acted and cinematically skillful. This is when the Old Man, still young but years after he and his wife have parted, spies his former love on a train platform with her new husband and toddler. She is luminous in her happiness, and he is dumbstruck, simply watching through the train window. As the train begins to move, she glances up and meets his gaze. He lifts a hand, a very small movement, and his faces changes subtly. She lifts hers to him, an unspoken acknowledgement. The train picks up speed and pulls away.
Worth seeing? For me, yes. But I was happy that I hadn’t dragged my husband to it. He’s not much for sophomoric, “deep thoughts” movies.