More Than Words

The WordsHow does one find the words to discuss the film, The Words?  This is a tricky one to talk about, as the good and bad cancel each other out to equal my least favorite of all emotions when it comes to entertainment, the dreaded “MEH.”

Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana star as Rory and Dora, a young (and ungodly beautiful) couple trying to make ends meet in NYC, while Rory fulfills his dream of becoming a published author.  This is no easy task, and the strain takes its toll on them both.  Dora is crazy supportive though, and before long, they get married.  They shoot off to Paris for a honeymoon (despite the fact that narrator Dennis Quaid – in a moment that perfectly exemplifies where this flick fails – just finished explaining how poor these two are), where Dora finds this gorgeous old leather case that she buys for her new husband as a kind of wedding present.  Some time later, back at home, Rory discovers a weathered-looking, typed manuscript in one of the folds of the case, clearly overlooked by Dora and the shop owner who sold it to her.  This film’s greatest success lies right here, in these moments of wonder and discovery wherein Rory, the writer struggling tirelessly to find his voice, to come into his own and gain success at his chosen craft, becomes so captivated by this hidden work that he decides to preserve it by typing it all out on his computer.  At this point, his intentions are only to see in on the screen and to keep it from being lost again.  A day or two later, he enters his apartment to find an emotional Dora who showers him with praise for the beautiful work she saw on his computer and read without his permission but it was so compelling she couldn’t help herself and finally! it’s the kind of story she always knew he had in him, the depth and beauty she never doubted was there and now he finally released it onto the page!  Rory begins to contradict her, to explain that the work isn’t his, but who can resist such ardent enthusiasm?  In a moment of profound weakness, Rory allows her to believe the story is his.

Dora eventually convinces Rory to submit it to his publisher and he foolishly gives in.  Somehow, Bradley Cooper and directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal manage to convey Rory’s insecurity and doubt, his being swept away in the search for recognition and success.  Because he isn’t just some schmuck who steals someone else’s work and passes it off as his own.  Yes, he does present this work by an unknown author as his story and he does gain tremendous success from it but his drive for doing so – his longing for the success he never reached on his own and the years of relentless hard work without reward somehow make it seem understandable.  That is, until the day an older gentleman approaches him in the park and begins to tell him a story, his story, in fact, that so closely resembles the one Rory printed and published and for which, he is now famous.

Jeremy Irons plays the nameless old man whose work is ripped off and he is such a captivating presence on screen, Cooper’s performance suffersThe Old Man by comparison.  Anyone who has seen Silver Linings Playbook knows that Bradley Cooper is capable of truly great acting but in The Words, he doesn’t quite deliver.  The real defect of the movie, however, lies in the third layer of this story, the one containing the narrator.  Remember the narrator?  The famous, adored present-day author Clay Hammonds (Quaid) tells us Rory’s story and it quickly becomes obvious that Hammonds is the real-life Rory, telling his story to a star-struck lit student, Daniella (Olivia Wilde), making this a story within a story within a story, which sounds so much more interesting than it is.  It would have been leaps and bounds more enjoyable without the Quaid-Wilde layer, which added nothing to the story itself and whose scenes felt like filler, a useless distraction.

The Words isn’t a total waste of time; it’s just one of many films that aims higher than its reach.  Much like its leading character, it wants and strives for a level of greatness that simply isn’t there.

~Annie & Nikki


Through Each Life Of Misery, Everybody’s Got A Hold On Hope

SLPHave you ever watched someone self-destruct?  Have you listened to their irrational, nearly incoherent rants and tried in vain to make them see reason?  Have you stood helplessly by as they allowed one opportunity for real growth after another to pass by and chose, instead, to give in to old, destructive habits?  If you’ve never witnessed any of this, watching the film Silver Linings Playbook will likely give you some insight into that world.  And afterward, I’m sure, you’ll count yourself lucky.

It’s a difficult thing to watch someone effectively destroy his/her life, especially if you happen to care for that person.  Such are the circumstances for Pat and Dolores Solitano (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver, respectively), whose son, Patrick, Jr. (Bradley Cooper) has just come out of an inpatient mental health facility.  Eight months prior, Patrick suffered a violent psychotic break after finding his wife in the shower with another man.  Spending eight months in an inpatient treatment center was the bargain he made to get out of jail time.  This is where SLP begins.  Patrick returns home to his parents’ house in Philadelphia and really seems to be holding his own.  He clings with almost manic desperation to the optimistic outlook he learned in treatment – to find the silver lining and focus only on it in any and every situation.  He’s determined to win back his estranged wife, Nikki, through optimism and exercise.  The plan is to show her, by taking such good care of himself and sticking to his new positive outlook, how well he’s doing.

The only hitch, Nikki has taken out a restraining order against him, one that’s strictly enforced by local law enforcement.  Before long, Pat meets Cooper -SLPTiffany, the sister of his best friend’s wife, a young woman who’s recently had some mental health issues of her own.  Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) lost her husband not long ago and subsequently fell into a severe depression, which caused her to act out sexually and become the talk of the town.  Also determined to turn her life around, she agrees to help Pat contact Nikki under the radar of the restraining order in exchange for his help in realizing a dream of her own.

The plot is interesting, though simple enough and the outcome can be predicted from pretty early on.  What makes SLP work so well is a combination of excellent dialogue courtesy of David O. Russell (writer/director) and Matthew Quick (writer of the novel on which the film is based) and the authentic, engaged performances of all the key players.  The dialogue is whip-smart and loaded with clinical mental health terminology but not so much that it goes above any heads or pokes fun at its audience.  It isn’t ironic or overly dramatic.  It’s genuine and infused with enough humor that is never takes itself too seriously.  This movie is actually pretty funny; I laughed out loud a lot, despite the heavy subject matter and sometimes painful realism.  Director David O. Russell constructs every scene to feel completely natural and evokes some of this year’s finest performances from his cast.  Bradley Cooper has never been this good.  Ever.  Robert DeNiro hasn’t been this good in some years and damn, is it refreshing to see him having fun Lawrence -SLPand fully engaged in a role again.  More than once during the flick’s two-hour run time, I thought: This is why I love him so much.  Jacki Weaver plays the doting mother perfectly and supporting roles from Chris Tucker, Paul Herman and John Ortiz solidify the “we’re all in this together” tone.  If I had to pick just one stand-out, though, it would be Jennifer Lawrence.  She plays Tiffany with a fierce authenticity, nailing that combination of vulnerability and willfulness perfectly.  I asked earlier if you’ve ever had to watch someone self-destruct.  I have and I’m guessing Jennifer Lawrence has, too, because she wholly inhabits the role of someone with self-destructive tendencies.

David O. Russell fully captures the family dynamics at play between someone with emotional instability and his family.  Everything about the film works -the working class neighborhood, the simultaneous affection and tension between father and son, the worried but sympathetic mother, Patrick’s bi-polar mood swings and Tiffany’s willful stubbornness.  Silver Linings Playbook may not be the most complex tale ever told, but it will make you laugh, make you cringe (sometimes simultaneously), break your heart with its realism but also give you hope because amidst the struggles and the heartache, there is the community of family and friends, the promise of better days ahead, and the joy brought from the ones you love who love you back.