A bunch of us ‘girls’ went to see this film the other night. Naturally, I was interested not only because a cute man was the lead, but because of the literary aspect of the film. I wasn’t exactly sure what that aspect was, but from the promo I got the impression the cute lead stole someone’s manuscript and passed it off as his own. Well, not exactly, but close. Bradley Cooper plays–a character in a book. A character who finds a manuscript in an old leather briefcase while honeymooning in Paris. He’s a struggling writer, trying to write that perfect literary work. He’s been told he’s talented, but not commercial. He’s had rejection slips run like the faucet through his mail slot. His lovely wife believes in him, his father, not so much. Dennis Quaid is the man who is writing this fictional account of a man who cannot get published. He’s doing a huge book reading–supposedly two sections of the book are being read aloud. Quaid meets up with a lit student, stalker–well, that’s what I would call Olivia Wilde’s character–she pursues Quaid with a fervor. And she questions him about the novel, his writing, etc etc. Meanwhile, his character–Cooper– has reluctantly, yet with full knowledge, submitted the manuscript he’s found to a publisher, and the publisher thinks it’s the best thing since the Bible, and publishes it to huge acclaim, sales, and prizes. An old man accosts Cooper–tells him a story about an American in Paris-not dancing–who meets a beautiful Parisian girl, they marry, have a daughter, the daughter is sick, dies, the wife is devastated, the husband writes a book, the book in the briefcase. The entire story is told in bits and pieces through various short segments, but is convincing in its sincerity and depth of expression–in particular because of the performances of Quaid and Jeremy Irons, who plays the old man.
I am surprised and happy that this film is NOT based on a novel for once, but an original idea written as a screenplay by newcomers Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal. It’s about love–yes, for one’s wife or significant other, but more so–love for words, for writing, the obsession, the need to write that is so strong, that it is sometimes stronger than love for a human. As soon as I saw the rejection slips pouring in, I knew. I knew that this was not a contemporary tale–although the book is told as if it happened just yesterday. I knew because in today’s literary climate, the man wouldn’t have suffered over the lack of a publishing contract. Not with the possibility to self publish that is available today. Cooper’s wife would have urged him to do so, his father would have told him to ‘just publish it yourself and then get down to doing real work.’ Copper certainly wouldn’t have spent years working in a publishing house as a glorified mail boy when he could have foisted his unproven work upon the public, with little scrutiny. All his friends could buy and download his work, he could get positive feedback from those who love him–and maybe even some amazon sales–I mean, if 20 of his best friends write glowing reviews on the site, others will read them and think–wow, this must really be great–look at all those positive reviews!! No oversight there, either.
Cooper would have forgone angst, yearning to be recognized, and would not have needed to pass off someone else’s manuscript as his own to gain a pub deal. No story here, then.
But that’s not the story Quaid is telling, therefore I knew without being informed by the film, that Quaid is writing the story about himself having used someone else’s words as his own, but fictionalizing it for the public. The core of the story, both Quaid’s real one, and the book he wrote is the theme of loving writing more than the woman next to you, and the price that makes you pay.
Quaid is a very successful author when he begins telling his book. He’s considered a literary light–but does he deserve those contracts and accolades? He’ll never know. Because by using someone else’s manuscript-a brilliant piece of writing–he will forever wonder if the second and third and fourth book he sold would have seen light of day if not for the first one–thereby robbing himself of the chance to prove that he could soar as a writer, he could achieve the heights the old man did with his one manuscript. Everything he writes after the stolen book will be inferior, because he will not believe he CAN write anything equal to it.
The film was satisfying to someone such as myself on a couple of levels. It confirmed the idea I’ve always had that to be a great writer, you have to be obsessed with doing it–of creating something from nothing other than your imagination and work. It also made me happy to see rejection slips, to feel the frustration that any really good writer needs to be even better and better. And it was wonderful to see that when something really exceptional surfaces, so called ‘traditional’ publishers recognize the work and publish, unlike what many want to believe about the state of publishing, that they produce nothing but dreck and all the great writers must do it themselves. And finally, that although most of his published life Quaid obviously kept this secret under wraps, he finally lets go of it and tells the truth—and in that one action, he may be able to win his wife back, and perhaps start again. Wait–the ending is ambiguous at best–but that’s my optomistic take on the conclusion.