I predict that this weekend will confirm one of my worst fears: A film can stand or fall based solely on its marketing.

Clearly, executives don't know how to sell "The Words." That's often the case with a picture that doesn't fit into an easily identified genre. Previews and posters for this film either give little indication of what the audience can expect -- or set up the wrong expectations. Either way, this independent film isn't likely to get the viewers it deserves.

"The Words" has a big-name star (Bradley Cooper), but it's a modest movie -- in terms of budget, not ambition. The multilayered story is about storytelling itself: the tales we tell others, the tales we tell ourselves and how easy it is to sacrifice what's really important as we pursue the narrative of our lives.

On screen
'The Words'
3 out of 4 stars
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid
Directors: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal
Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking
Running time: 96 minutes

Cooper plays Rory Jansen, one of the countless young writers who have moved to New York. He's spent two years working full-time on his novel -- only to hear it's "unpublishable." "It's too interior," an agent tells him. The fact that the agent admires Rory's talent doesn't mean much to the unpublished author.

Especially after he reads a book that does what he realizes he can never accomplish. Honeymooning in Paris with his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), Rory finds a manuscript in an old briefcase. He admires this work so much, he types it in his computer just to feel the words flow through him. He hadn't intended to steal it. But Dora finds it and reads it, thinking her husband's written it, and is immensely impressed. This work is publishable, and Rory becomes a huge success -- which brings him to the attention of the old man (Jeremy Irons) who actually wrote the book.

Written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, childhood friends of Cooper making their feature debut, "The Words" is a witty look at art and life. It helps that such great talent perform the subtle scenes. Cooper can hold his own against the always-great Irons. Ben Barnes is good as the young Irons, whose story seems a little melodramatic.

Yet another writer, played by Dennis Quaid, tells both tales. That might seem like a metanarrative too far, but everything in this film is deliberate. While this subplot, in which the fetching Olivia Wilde tries to seduce the eminent older novelist, at first seems superfluous, it ends up vital to the point. This isn't the thriller that some marketing materials have made it out to be. But it does contain mysteries you should have the pleasure of puzzling out yourself.