A ponderous drama, "The Words" wraps a story within a story, and then another story within that, folding yet a fourth story into the third.
Are you confused? Sadly, this mediocre effort squanders its hour-and-40 minutes without clarifying its ambiguities.
The primary tale belongs to author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), who reads his latest novel, "The Words," aloud to a jam-packed auditorium. His story is given brief screen time, as he reads the account of young Rory Jansen's (Bradley Cooper) two-year struggle to get his first book published. After receiving numerous rejections, Jansen is called to the office of literary agent Timothy Epstein (Ron Rifkin), who admires Jansen's tome, but explains that such an "interior" novel is nearly impossible to publish in today's market. Instead, Jansen goes to work for the agent in an effort to get a handle on what makes a book sell.
Finally able to support his beautiful live-in girlfriend, Dora (Zoe Saldana), thanks to his new job, the pair marry and honeymoon in Paris.
While perusing an antique store, Jansen admires a weathered, shabby chic valise that his wife subsequently purchases for him.
Back home in New York City, Jansen discovers a manuscript tucked inside one of its pockets. The work tells the story of a young American ex-soldier, and his tragic, short-lived marriage to a beautiful Parisian girl.
Hoping to feel closer to this brilliant piece, Jansen types it into his computer where it is read by Dora who assumes Jansen wrote it. She praises its depth of feeling and beauty, and encourages him to show it to his boss.
Within months, the plagiarized work is published in Jansen's name, and is receiving accolades and awards.
Enter "the old man," played by Jeremy Irons, arriving to inform the phony author that he has affixed Jansen's name to the old man's autobiographical novel. The old man simply wants to tell Jansen the rest of the story, but after hearing out the true author, Jansen confesses his crime to both his wife and his agent - the latter of whom insists that the public never learns the truth.
Meanwhile, Clay Hammond, the middle-aged author of the book purporting to tell these perhaps-fictional-perhaps-true stories, is approached by Daniella (Olivia Wilde, appearing in her third thankless big-screen role), a young temptress who may have ulterior motives for privately romancing and questioning Hammond.
Though cleverly interwoven in flashbacks, none of the stories satisfy because none is fleshed out beyond its importance as a link in the chain. Writer-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, fail to persuade us to emotionally invest in their characters, putting through the intellectual exercise of deciding which, if any of the stories is real or fictional. Despite a cast that brings its best to this saga of lost moments and opportunities, we finally become convinced that more words often equal less.