Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Bonsai vs. The Words, two stories about writers who, in their ailing search for inspiration, bend the temporality of love and muddle the threshold of fiction in real life.
Bonsai tells the story of young Julio, a struggling writer who fails to land a transcription job with a famous author. To avoid admitting to his girlfriend that he didn't get the job, Julio tells her he's currently "transcribing," and draws from a college romance to do it, plunging deep into an intimacy of the past.
In The Words, Clay Hammond is writing a story about Rory Jansen (whom the movie is actually about), a starving writer who happens upon a full-length love story written by a WWII soldier (meta much?), which, to Jansen's surprise, was never published. Surprise turns into contentment when Jansen promptly decides to type up the novel's pages and call the work his own, securing the praise, renown, and success he always desired. Unfortunately for him, the reality of the fiction catches up to him when he encounters the original writer. Not quite as disorienting as Inception, but interesting enough to require a breakdown. Over all, Bonsai seems charming, but The Words' trump card—the frame narrative—has us intrigued.
Advantage: The Words
Julio, played by Diego Noguera, wields all the awkward charm and worrisome skinniness of the Michael Cera we fell in (and out) of love with in Juno. But there's something about Noguera that keeps the flame alive. For one, Bonsai isn't bent on exploiting Julio's quirkiness, and Noguera exhibits an honest and believable depth of character. We also see him as both the prepubescent and socially-inept college student of his past (no facial hair), and the slightly less socially-inept starving writer (facial hair: ding-ding-ding!). Perhaps the transformation lends to a more rounded character in Julio—either way, Noguera has heartbreaker potential.
Under the alias Rory Jansen, Bradley Cooper returns as the handsome, brawny, golden-haired, blue-eyed bell in a big city, a Cooper we know all too well. The fact of the matter is, we've seen him do this before. His performance will no doubt deliver, but his versatility as an actor may be restricted by what seems to be an inevitable typecasting. And besides, new talent is always refreshing. According to IMDb, Bonsai, steadily showing promise, will be Noguera's second gracing of the big screen.
As the story of Julio's past love unfolds, Julio's present with his current girlfriend is relegated to the periphery, almost to the point that we forget girlfriend-present is witnessing him unearth the passion he once shared with girlfriend-past. This dynamic bolsters the juicy factor of an otherwise straightforward love story. The sweet escapades and sultry sexcapades of Julio's past are backdropped by the "blah, blah, blah" mantra of his ex, bringing a "fictional" relationship back down to earth and making Julio's past love story something we can accept and enjoy.
Cooper and Saldana make an awfully attractive but tearfully predictable pairing, lacking a steaminess both actors have previously shown onscreen—that is, until a WWII love story (played out by Ben Barnes and Nora Arnezeder) comes to the rescue. The parallels drawn between the two fictional couples attests to the universally inspiring experience of love, and offers Cooper and Saldana's marriage the potential to mean something in a broader context. Still, the sparks aren't flying yet.
It's not made immediately apparent what Julio shall discover in revisiting a love lost, but Julio gets a little too into revisiting his past—too much to be over it. We think it's safe to say this isn't just another story of romantic denial and trust in what the tie to Julio's literary life will offer.
The Words can't avoid bringing up a moral issue: you stumble upon another man's work, type it up, and call it your own, a decision Cooper's character makes fairly easily. But to make The Words a story of guilt or remorse would dismiss any potential the film has to thrive beyond its trailer. We think there is more depth to the movie—really, we do. But the narrowness of the trailer, Cooper's twinkling blue eyes, and Irons' axioms droning in the background don't work to get it across. Perhaps the real life-fiction overlap will eclipse Cooper's "sorry, not sorry" syndrome in the feature length film.
The Words will deliver everything you'd expect. But like Cooper's casting, that's all there is. Bonsai will charm your pants off and make you think about a thing or two.
The Winner: Bonsai
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