Friday, September 28, 2012

The Words

"Pretentious," in my book, is not necessarily a negative adjective.  Sure, it gets thrown about in a mostly perjorative sense, but I don't think that's quite fair.  Popular art requires a level of arrogance--after all, those people creating the art must believe their opinions, views, and stories are worth hearing.  Otherwise, the art would never be made, or at least never be brought before a larger audience.  The pretentiousness that can accompany that attitude shouldn't be held against it; it's a natural side effect.

The problem arises, of course, when the art produced doesn't come near to matching the level of pretention that comes with it.

Exhibit A: The Words.  The film takes a matryoshka approach to storytelling: a story within a story within a story, with characters at each level commenting on the beauty of the story inside it.  One author (Dennis Quaid) is reading his new publication to a roomful of adoring fans.  His story is about a struggling author (Bradley Cooper) who finds, and ultimately decides to pass off as his own, a beautiful story about another struggling writer (Jeremy Irons).  And so on and so forth.

The most useless of these is the outermost shell.  The movie would have done well to leave behind the Dennis Quaid/Olivia Wilde portion of the film altogether in favor of fleshing out the inner rings a bit more.

It also would have done well to remember the old adage "Show, don't tell."  Perhaps because The Words is a story about, well, words, the filmmakers thought it would be better to use flat language to get its meaning, depth, and theme across.  It was wrong.  Voiceovers are a crutch.  Using characters to praise a work rather than showing that work to the audience and letting that audience make up their own minds is a crutch.  Telling the audience, flat out, what to feel about a character is a crutch.

The Words had potential, but got so swept up in its own self-importance that it never bothered to check if it was actually good.

It wasn't.

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