The movies about “writers” over the last few years all seem to revolve around this common theme: Self criticism of the crippling kind and the fears that will drive writers to do the unthinkable. Copy. The following movies are some examples of the writer’s task at hand: Self-belief and the daily struggle for self-validation while keeping the love for the words on the page, alive and well. And none of these movies that came out in the last two years are very good from a cinematic standpoint, but Bradley Cooper in The Words and from one of my favorites, Silver Linings Playbook, is wonderful. The down-right-perfect Jeremy Irons from just about everything you have ever seen, like Fitzgerald and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (which I confess I have seen 8 times) is sexy and brilliant, even when he has no lines.
So, for all the writers out there that just might struggle with the “not good enough syndrome” here are a few cinematic treatments on the topic. My favorite: Third Person with Liam Neeson. What a twist of truth-telling at the end and from Paul Haggis who did Crash.
Words and Pictures: Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen
Clive Owen is a poet, an alcoholic struggling with the pressure and anxiety of holding on to his edge as a writer who then simply becomes an asshole all the way around. But, he loves words, uses them freely and plays word games with all his relationships. Enter a renowned painter, Juliette Binoche, who is struggling with RA and has to find new ways of painting through the pain. This art instructor and this English teacher form a rivalry that ends up with a competition at their school in which students decide whether words or pictures are more powerful. Writing verses painting. Words and Pictures is a thoughtful film about ideas, about creativity and the power of language pitted against the eloquence of visuals.
It features two great performances full of energy, but has a pretty lame script from Author and screenwriter Gerald Di Pego who may not be a household name, but he’s “maintained a surprisingly healthy career penning novels, original screenplays, and adaptations for more than forty years”, like some of my all time favorite campy and b grade movies like, Forgotten, Phenomenon with John Travolta and Message, cry your eyes out, in a Bottle.
Words and Pictures has a slew of flaws, but the performances by Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche have a crackling, irreverent, feisty vitality, and the screenplay’s strongest moments set off trains of thought that dedicated teachers everywhere hope to ignite in their students. But that is not what this B- movie is really about. It is about what seems to be a universal issue for writers: Fear they are not good enough and how it can eat you alive.
And so enters the theme of copying someone else’s. …Words. Ouch.
Authors Anonymous: Dennis Farina
After a dysfunctional group of unpublished writers accepts Hannah into the fold the last thing they expect is her overnight success. Her career takes off and her eccentric and jealous colleagues, played by Chris Klein, Teri Polo, Dylan Walsh and Dennis Farina (who died this year and hopefully not from the lack in this movie), struggle to find their own success and fame as their rejections turn to desperation. Simple plot, simple-minded movie. Hollywood Reporter says: With its mockumentary-style, semi-improvised portrait of a writers’ workshop whose mostly untalented members become consumed by jealousy and petty bickering, Authors Anonymous sounds like a terrific concept for a Christopher Guest movie. Unfortunately, Guest didn’t make it. Theme? Rivalry and jealousy while we compare ourselves to everyone, but our own innate standards.
Third Person: Liam Neeson
When a writer is the center-point of a movie, chances are that you are being led to peer into the tortured psyche of the writer behind his or her work. Sometimes this can be fascinating, as was the case with Adaptation or even The Shining. Not so much so in this movie. But it had me fixated from the beginning anyway. Don’t throw away the chance to see it because it has some real value in the twist and turns of bringing us into the inner workings of some truly odd and eccentric relationships that all lead back to our writer played by Liam Neeson. “Third Person,” is a metaphoric title nudging us to keep going with the premise of a distinguished yet struggling author who “steals the very words out of the mouths of acquaintances” for his new book on love, guilt and a little more guilt. But you won’t see it coming…I won’t give it away…not everything is as it seems. Except for the guilt. Theme: Most good writing comes from the deep honesty we are willing to have about our own life stories and the naked truth we are willing to show to the world. Writing is a peep show. Paul Haggis brought us Brokeback Mountain, Crash and Million Dollar Baby.
The Words: Bradley Cooper
Writers and Directors Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal who did Tron and Cloverfield,take this romantic drama with Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Jeremy Irons and stuck a jagged edged knife in our ribs as we watch the angst and guilt of a young writer who finally achieves long sought after literary success after publishing the next great American novel which… he did not write at all it seems. The past comes to haunt him as his fame skyrockets and he if forced to confront having stolen another man’s deeply personal story, and another man’s manuscript. Enter Jeremy. It carves up the struggle between ambition and power, fame and self-worth and guilt and shame, the ultimate bind. Theme: Self-Belief. What else is there?