Friday, September 7, 2012

The Words [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

The Words (cowritten and codirected by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal) is a film that I honestly bought into hook, line and sinker, leaving the theater thinking that I had just seen one of the best movies of the year (both in terms of writing/direction and even in terms of some of the performances) only to find that it was trashed by an awful lot of critics, getting an very impressive (in an infamous sort of way) 17% from critics on the RottenTomatoes website's "TomatoMeter" (even though the audience score was much more favorable).  The young adult oriented AV Club even gave the film a D- (!!) even as it gave "Casa de Mi Padre" certainly one of the worst American-made movie of the year a "B."  So honestly critics, "why the hate?" Or are there a lot of guilty consciences out there? ;-)

Okay, my last comment is something of a cheap shot, but I honestly don't understand why the critical community would have trouble with either the multi-level structure of the story here or, for that matter, its (IMHO more or less obvious) ending.

How many levels of story/action were in Inception [2010] that received almost universal critical acclaim (though perhaps mostly for its special effects ...)?  And did anybody out there read a _good translation_ of the Thousand and One Nights?  One of the true joys and marvels of reading the 1001 Nights is in keeping track of the levels of storytelling that take place there.  Sure on the first level, there's the story of Scheherazade telling a series of night-time stories to her unstable and insanely jealous husband to keep him focused (on her stories) and thus keep her alive.  But many of her stories were about people (merchants, sailors, yes, at times thieves...) who _also_ found themselves in situations that they had to tell powerful, despotic people (sultans, kings, judges, commanders) stories that would entertain those people, calm them down and keep the (metaphorically) "tap dancing" storytellers alive.  I think there was one time that I counted four levels of story-telling in one section of the 1001 Nights.  So that this film, The Words, would have three levels of storytelling taking place is something that I found joyfully entertaining.

Then perhaps in my line of work, I do see a world that's more complex than cartoons.  Should an adulterer, for instance, tell his/her spouse that he/she cheated?  Why?  To whose benefit?  It's been my experience that many (most? I'd have no idea...) adulterers eventually confess their adultery to their spouses not for the benefit of their spouse but _for their own benefit_: "I cheated on you <fill in the blank as to how many years ago>.  Now by telling you, at minimum, I'm rocking _your world_.  You won't be able to trust me (or anybody) for a _long_ time.  But boy am I relieved ... In fact, I'm so relieved that I'm going to go out for a beer."   Honestly, where's the justice in that?  And yes, the obvious counsel to all is DON'T CHEAT TO BEGIN WITH.  But once you're there, make sure that your motivations for "coming clean" are themselves clean.  And the way to Redemption may be to LEAD AN HONORABLE LIFE FROM HENCEFORTH and to BE MERCIFUL to those who find their sins outed in one way or another, knowing quite well, that it could easily have been you.  Jesus did not say to the people: "Whack the adultress and then sin no more."  Instead he told her accusers "Whoever hasn't sinned cast the first stone" and THEN to the adultress "Go and sin no more..." (John 8:1-11).  Honestly folks, that's a path in which "everybody lives." 

Anyway, those two great musings come to play in this film that was roundly trashed...

The movie is structured -- in three layers.  It begins with a famed fictional writer, Clay Hammond (played by Dennis Quaid) addressing a filled auditorium of adulating writing majors at (presumably) Columbia University in New York City, reading two extended excerpts from his latest book.

Hammond's book is about a young writer named Rory Jansen (played by Bradley Cooper).  In the first excerpt, Rory is struggling.  He's worked on a novel for three years, borrowed (repeatedly and to increasing embarrassment) money from his dad (played by J.K. Simmons), sent his novel to all kinds of publishing houses and received basically the same rejection letter back each time: "Yours is a good, introspective book.  But no one is going to publish it, being by an author who doesn't have a name (isn't already well known)."  Dad finally tells his son, "Look, you have a girlfriend, Dora (played by Zoe Saldana).  You're going to want to get married.  And you can't get married until you have some money.  Son, please get a job."

Rory listens to his father and gets a job -- at the bottom rung of a New York publishing house, still kinda thinking "I'll make connections."  He marries Dora.  They go to Paris on their honeymoon, sort of "in the footsteps of Earnest Hemmingway." (Hemingway fans will find all kinds of allusions to his life/works in this story).  There, in Paris, he purchases an old beat-up briefcase at an antiquarian shop.  He and Dora come home, Rury with his briefcase.

At home fiddling around with the briefcase, still also wondering what to do since his own novel (which he had spent three years writing was never going to get published) he finds that lodged in a somewhat hidden inner pocket of the briefcase is a worn, browning manuscript...

He starts to read it.  He falls in love with it.  It's about a young American soldier (played in flashbacks by Ben Barnes) in France just after World War II, who falls in love with a young French woman (played in flashbacks by Nora Arnezeder).  Having nothing to do, and his own inspirations gone, Rory Jansen, starts _retyping_ the novel into his laptop at night.  He doesn't quite know why he's doing it, but it keeps him busy in the evenings at least "pretending," in a sense, that he's a still writer.

Well, one morning his wife, Dora, sees the text on his computer ... AND SHE LOVES IT.  She comes to him with a big kiss, asking him: "Why didn't you tell me?"  She praises the work to high heaven, telling him that she always believed in him but ... wow! THIS MANUSCRIPT she tells him will DEFINITELY get published.  What's Rory to do?  He had just finished retyping that manuscript into his computer.  At work, he takes it to one of the publishing agents there, Richard Forde (played by John Hannah), and tells him quite modestly: "Look, I've been working here for 2 years, and I've never bothered anybody with any of my stuff, but I was just wondering if you would look this manuscript over and let me know what you think." 

Well publishing agent Richard Forde "looks over the manuscript" over the weekend and _can't put it down_.  He loves it!   On the following Monday, when he sees Rory Jensen, he calls him over, tells him that he honestly loved the book and asks if he's shown it to any other publishing houses. When Rory answers that no, he asks him right then and there if he could be his agent and publish the book.  The book, of course, becomes an enormous literary success winning all kinds of critical acclaim...!

BUT ... as famed fiction writer Clay Hammond continues then with the _second excerpt_ of his novel about the fictional writer Rory Jansen, the plot _inevitably_ "thickens."  One day, an Old Man (played by Jeremy Irons) sits down next to the now famous novelist Rory Jansen on a bench in a park somewhere in New York City.  And there he confronts him with a question: "You know when, I was reading _your_ book, I felt like _I was there_.  I _could taste_ that wine.  I _could taste_ that young woman Celia's lips.  I've always wanted to ask someone as famous and gifted as you: how does one get _so inspired_ to such powerful prose like that?"  And of course it becomes progressively clear that this Old Man was that "young soldier" of the manuscript and yes he even explains to Rory how that brief case with that manuscript had gotten lost...

BOOM ... Okay, what the heck to do?  In Clay Hammond's novel, Rory Jansen actually wants to come clean.  But Dora, his agent, and EVEN THE OLD MAN, try to talk him out of it.  To many critics' complaints, the story of Rory Jansen ends unresolved.  And in a final twist, when a young adoring grad student, named Daniela (played by Olivia Wilde) who's clearly read, reread and read again Clay Hammond's novel that he had been reading to his audience confronts Clay Hammond (privately) with the possibility that CLAY HAMMOND was actually the RORY JANSEN character in his novel, the film leaves THAT also unresolved.

And honestly a lot of the critics have complained about this!  For goodness sake folks, we all pretend to be adults/to be mature.  But when we go to the movies, we seem to want fairy tales.  (And it still is actually something of a fairy tale).  This movie didn't end badly or disappointingly.  It ends as a discussion piece asking: What would you do? 

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