Over the New Year’s Day holiday, we screened a bunch of movies. There were a couple “meh” movies, but also several I liked (and I’m pretty hard to please), so it was a good movie-weekend for us. But of the ones I liked, two stood out and demanded specific mention for their “writerly” content.
“The Words,” is one of those films that crops up every few years, where the main character is a writer. “Stranger than Fiction” (brilliant, btw), “The Ghost Writer,” and “The Wonder Boys” spring to mind as standout Writer-cum-Main-Character movies of the last dozen years, and I’ll put “The Words” right up there with them, but I’ll go even further. “The Words” is the only one I’ll buy on DVD so I can watch it again.
Why? Because this movie is more than just a movie where the main character happens to be a writer. It’s more than a movie filled with the angst-steeped maunderings of a man who can’t seem to put pen to paper. This is a movie about the ethics of writing.
Watch the trailer and you’ll see the setup: Rory is a young, struggling writer who happens across an old manuscript, reads it, loves it, and submits it as his own work. Later, the real author of the book appears, and thence comes our conflict.
Well, the good thing about this movie is that the trailer is lying to us. The conflict actually begins well before that, and rightly so. Why does Rory put forth this book he found as his own? How does that act affect him? How does it affect his world, his wife, his life? When Rory finally meets up with the real author of the book, the conflict is well underway, and things definitely do not get better.
What I liked best about this movie though, was the way it developed the characters (all of them), their history (seamlessly inserted into the narrative), and built onward to what I thought was a truly believable, adult ending and denouement. The movie is structurally complex but this structure is (in the final analysis) comprehensible and, more importantly, necessary to the fullness of the story. This is a movie that, on second and third screenings, will provide greater depth and detail.
The second movie I thought had a definite “writerly” slant was one I selected on a lark. As most of you know, I am a Browncoat, a Joss Whedon admirer, and a genuine fan of “Firefly.” So, when I learned that Joss’s production company had come out with a movie (albeit not of his direction), I looked for it.
“The Cabin in the Woods” is, on first glance, another of those ultra-violent horrors filled with dumb teenagers and sadistic monsters. I am definitely not a fan of the slasher/dead-teenager movie, but I’ve seen enough of them to know the formula, and my reaction was, “Seriously, Joss?” But then I read the blurb and I was hooked.
What we have here is a beautiful deconstruction of the genre. This movie takes every complaint you’ve ever had about the genre, takes every moment of predictable stupidity that made you yell at the screen, and takes every built-in senseless implausibility these movies provide and wraps them all up in a larger, even more implausible explanation. It’s both a send-up and love letter to a genre that’s had its share of both, but this one is done with true ingenuity, wicked humor, and the sharp, semi-self-aware writing that only Joss Whedon can provide. And, as a writer, I enjoyed seeing it pick apart each and every detail of the Dead Teenager Movie formula and prop them all back up again.
In short, I loved this movie, from the opening shot to the big reveal at the end. It was respectful of its audience and hilarious to boot.