The Words
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Written by
  • Brian Klugman
  • Lee Sternthal
Produced by
CinematographyAntonio Calvache
Edited byLeslie Jones
Music byMarcelo Zarvos
  • Animus Films
  • Benaroya Pictures
  • Serena Films
  • Waterfall Media
Distributed byCBS Films
Release dates
  • January 27, 2012 (2012-01-27) (Sundance Film Festival)
  • September 7, 2012 (2012-09-07) (United States)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million[1]
Box office$16.4 million[1]

The Words is a 2012 American mystery romantic drama film, written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal in their directorial debut. It stars Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde, Jeremy Irons, Ben Barnes, Dennis Quaid, and Nora Arnezeder. Cooper, a childhood friend of Klugman and Sternthal from Philadelphia, was also the executive producer.[2]


Clayton Hammond (Dennis Quaid) attends a public reading of his new book, The Words. Clayton begins reading from his book which focuses on a fictional character named Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), an aspiring writer who lives in New York City with his girlfriend, Dora (Zoe Saldana). Rory borrows some money from his father (J. K. Simmons), gets a job as a mail supervisor at a literary agency, and attempts to sell his first novel, which is repeatedly rejected by publishers.

After living together for some time, Rory and Dora marry and, during their honeymoon in Paris, Dora buys Rory an old briefcase he was admiring in an antiques store. After returning to America and having his book rejected again, Rory finds an old but masterfully written manuscript in the briefcase with a central character named Jack. Rory types the manuscript into his laptop to know what it feels like to write something truly great, even if it's only pretend. Later, while using the laptop, Dora happens upon the novel and reads it. She mistakenly assumes that Rory wrote the novel and convinces him to give it to a publisher at work, Joseph Cutler (Željko Ivanek). After a few months Joseph finally reads the manuscript and offers Rory a contract which he accepts. The book is a hit and Rory becomes famous.

At this point, Hammond takes a break from the reading and goes backstage, where he is introduced by his agent (John Hannah) to Daniella (Olivia Wilde), a student and amateur writer who wants to interview him and notes that he is separated from his wife, although he still wears a wedding ring. Hammond agrees to meet her after the ceremony and returns to the stage, where he continues to read the book.

The second part of the reading details Rory's encounter with "The Old Man" (Jeremy Irons) in New York City's Central Park, who reveals himself as the true author of the manuscript and that it was based on his life in Paris. He explains that when he was a young man (Ben Barnes) and stationed in France by the U.S. Army in the final days of World War II, he fell in love with Celia (Nora Arnezeder), a French waitress. They eventually married and had a daughter, but the baby died. Unable to cope with the loss, Celia left him and moved to her parents' house. He then used his pain as inspiration to write the manuscript, which he took to Celia while visiting her at her parents' home. She found the story so moving that she chose to return to him. However, she unintentionally left the manuscript in a briefcase on the train after her trip back to Paris, thereby losing it. Because of the loss of the manuscript, their reconciliation was short-lived, and they divorced soon afterwards.

The public reading ends and Hammond tells his fans they must buy the book to learn how it ends. Daniella then accompanies Hammond back to his apartment where she pressures him into telling her the ending. Hammond explains that Rory tells the truth about the creation of the story, first to his wife and then to Cutler. Also, Rory tells Cutler he wants to credit the old man as the true author. Cutler angrily advises against this as it would severely damage both their reputations, and recommends giving the old man a share of the book's profits instead.

Rory then seeks out the old man to pay him and finds him working in a plant nursery. The old man refuses the money but, after doing so, reveals that while once riding a train to work, years after his divorce, he spotted Celia with a new husband and a young son at a train station. The old man points out that people always move on from their mistakes, and Rory will too.

Daniella continues to pressure Hammond for more details. He reveals that the old man died not long after Rory's second meeting with him along with the secret about who the manuscript's author really is. Daniella deduces that The Words is actually an autobiographical book, with Rory as Hammond's surrogate, and kisses him, reassuring him that people move on from their mistakes, but he pulls away, telling her that there is a fine line between life and fiction. The film flashes back to Rory and Dora in their tiny kitchen, as Rory whispers "I'm sorry" in her ear.



The script includes several references to writer Ernest Hemingway. Rory and Dora view a commemorative plaque to Hemingway during their Paris honeymoon.[9] The plot device of Celia leaving her husband's manuscript in a leather satchel on a train is reminiscent of a similar episode in Hemingway's life, when his first wife Hadley left a briefcase containing all of his writings up to 1922 on a train; the manuscripts were never recovered.[10][11] Roger Ebert points out the similarity between the name of the character "The Old Man" and Hemingway's novel The Old Man and the Sea, and the commonality of the name Dora among the wives of novelists.[11]

Allegations of similarity to German novel

According to some Swiss newspapers, the plot of The Words is similar to that of the 2004 novel Lila Lila by Martin Suter (made into the German film Lila, Lila released in 2009), which is also about a young unsuccessful author who discovers an old manuscript, is pushed by his girlfriend into publishing it, becomes enormously successful, is later confronted by an old man who is (or in that case, knows) the original author, and then publishes a second book about how this all happened.

Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal say that they knew nothing of Suter, his work, or Lila Lila. They had the idea and began writing The Words in 1999, years before Lila Lila was published. Together they attended the 2000 Sundance Screenwriter's Lab with their original screenplay.[2][12][13]



Filming began in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on June 7, 2011[14] for a period of 25 days.[2] The Montreal location was used because it could pass as both Paris and New York.[15]


The Words had its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.[16] Prior to its official premiere and following a press and industry screening at Sundance, the film was purchased by CBS Films for $2 million with a $1.5 million print and advertising commitment.[16]

The Words grossed nearly $11.5 million in North America and $1.7 million worldwide, against a production budget of $6 million.[17]


The Words received mostly negative reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 22% rating based on 117 reviews with a average rating of 4.6/10 and the consensus stating: "Neither as clever nor as interesting as it appears to think it is, The Words maroons its talented stars in an overly complex, dramatically inert literary thriller that's ultimately a poor substitute for a good book".[18] At Metacritic, the film received 37 out of 100 with "generally unfavorable reviews" from 30 critics.[19] Jen Chaney from The Washington Post gave the film 1.5 out of 5 stars, saying it "is a well-acted but narratively limp indie that’s undermined by a failure to connect emotionally with its audience".[20]

Chris Pandolfi from At A Theater Near You praised the film, saying that while its "ambiguity is unlikely to be appreciated by everyone," it "deserves to be structurally, emotionally, and thematically analyzed".[21] Stephen Holden of The New York Times also praised the film as "a clever, entertaining yarn".[10]


  1. ^ a b "The Words (2012) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Kaufman, Amy (September 7, 2012). "Bradley Cooper helps his friends get 'The Words' out". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Newman, Nick (2011-02-10). "Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Irons Starring Together in 'The Words'". Archived from the original on 2013-02-03. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
  4. ^ a b c d "Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde, Bradley Cooper and Dennis Quaid Join 'The Words'". Retrieved 2011-06-06.
  5. ^ a b c Labrecque, Jeff (28 January 2012). "Sundance: 'The Words' Bradley Cooper on being 'creatively stymied' in his own career". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  6. ^ a b Horn, John (21 January 2012). "Sundance 2012: Bradley Cooper gets naughty in 'The Words'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  7. ^ "Olivia Wilde Joins Bradley Cooper in 'The Words'". 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
  8. ^ a b c d "Olivia Wilde, Ben Barnes, J.K. Simmons & John Hannah Join Bradley Cooper In 'The Words'". indieWIRE. Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
  9. ^ Pols, Mary (September 6, 2012). "The Words: Oh What a Tangled Web They Weave". Time. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Holden, Stephen (September 7, 2012). "A Few Hungry Writers, Playing Fast and Loose". The New York Times. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (September 5, 2012). "Reviews: The Words". Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  12. ^ Philippe Zweifel (2012-09-27). "Lila Worte". Tages Anzeiger. Retrieved 2013-01-12.
  13. ^ Sarah Fux (2012-09-27). "Wie viel Suter steckt in "The Words"?". Zürcher Studierendenzeitung. Archived from the original on 2014-05-02. Retrieved 2013-01-12.
  14. ^ "'The Words' filming location in Montreal on June 7, 2011". 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2011-06-10.
  15. ^ Meehan, Jay (20 January 2012). "Sundance Screenwriters' Lab helped shape 'The Words'". The Park Record. Archived from the original on 6 May 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  16. ^ a b Miller, Daniel and Jay A. Fernandez (January 22, 2012). "Sundance 2012: Bradley Cooper's 'The Words' Sells to CBS Films After Heated Bidding". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
  17. ^ "The Words". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  18. ^ "The Words Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  19. ^ "The Words Review". Metacritic. Retrieved 2015-06-07.
  20. ^ Chaney, Jen (2012-09-07). "Finding A Voice in Another's Tragedy". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2013-02-05. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
  21. ^ Pandolfi, Chris (2012-09-07). "The Words (2012) Review by Chris Pandolfi". At A Theater Near You. Archived from the original on 2012-09-21. Retrieved 2012-09-07.