Although The Words might be witlessly titled and executed, you can pass the time coming up with fancy phrases to describe its basic concept: The stories nesting inside stories suggest matryoshka dolls; its meta-narratives a mise en abyme. The movie opens with Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) giving a reading to a packed auditorium of his latest novel, The Words—a tale of struggling writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), who becomes a literary sensation after submitting as his own work a yellowed manuscript he finds in an attaché case while honeymooning in Paris. (Rory’s breakout novel bears another killer title: The Window Tears.) The original author of that text, played by Jeremy Irons (and listed in the credits only as “the Old Man”), tracks Rory down and sets in motion another chunk of heavily voiceovered flashback, as Irons, sounding more than once like Scatman Crothers, recounts his days as a stripling in postwar France. In their helming debut, writers-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal repurpose the infamous 1922 incident of Hadley Hemingway accidentally leaving husband Ernest’s writings on a train at the Gare de Lyon. Also stuck in Papa’s time are women’s roles: Zoe Saldana, playing Rory’s wife, Dora, does little more than simper and receive hugs at the kitchen sink. But hoariest of all are the exhortations to make distinctions between “fiction” and “life.” Melissa Anderson
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