I'm looking at Rotten Tomatoes' rating for "The Words" and wondering if they saw the same movie I did.
Less than 20 percent of nationwide critics liked this tale of a struggling author who wins acclaim by using a manuscript found in an antique shop.
It's tempting to speculate on why so few cared for "The Words" - but perhaps I should explain why I liked it.
Above, this film image released by CBS Films shows Nora Arnezeder, left, and Ben Barnes in a scene from “The Words.” Below, Bradley Cooper and Zoë Saldana are seen in another scene from the film.
Loved it, actually.
Granted, the plot seems simple and predictable; but the tale of Rory Jansen's publishing success unfolds in framework fashion: It's the plot of a book being read aloud by an older author named Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid); after a while, one suspects that Hammond has based the Jansen story on his own life.
In this story-within-a-story, Jansen (Bradley Cooper) is eventually accosted by an older man (Jeremy Irons) who actually wrote - and then lost - the manuscript Jansen used; this older man tells Rory how he wrote the book in post-WWII Paris.
So "The Words" has four overlapping storylines: (1) Hammond reading and discussing (2) his book about Rory Jansen, who learns (3) the old man's tale about writing (4) a novel called "The Window Tears."
The script develops a tapestry of connections between these stories - and several challenging questions - that would take a 10-page essay to unpack.
Each main character - Hammond, Jansen and the old man - has created a scenario that may or may not reflect the actual truth; and each faces various situations in which he must choose between fiction and reality.
This choice is never easy because - despite what Hammond claims - the divide between fact and fiction isn't clear.
Yet such a choice is crucial; in Jansen's case, he is wracked with guilt for choosing to propagate a lie as truth.
At the same time, the film's women - two young wives, plus a student crushing on Hammond - must also choose between life and art (though I suspect the student is a make-believe character that Hammond created to help process his problems).
Some of this is reflected in the famed book's title: the "window" between reality and fantasy sometimes "tears" (a notion supported by the movie's use of actual windows).
At the same time, there's a strong underlying theme about processing crises and bad decisions. All this merely scratches the surface in a film that requires constant reflection on issues both moral and aesthetic.
"The Words" features a spectacular performance from Quaid, plus terrific work from Ben Barnes and Nora Arnezeder in the Paris flashbacks.
It's also nicely photographed; indeed, the film's only drawback is that the writing in both its lauded books (Hammond's and the old man's) comes across as boringly pedestrian.
Other than that, it's a quiet, thoughtful change-of-pace from the usual box-office noise; I'm grieved that so few seemed willing to play with the interlocking pieces of its complex puzzle.