‘The Words’ fascinates on multiple levels

In “The Words,” a writer is telling a story about a writer telling a story, a setup that could be a gimmick if it weren’t for the fact that at least a couple of these stories are pretty involving.

This indie film is, happily, different from the usual hatched-in-Sundance effort. The framing story involves an author (Dennis Quaid) at a book signing, where he reads from his new work, and — between glasses of wine backstage — enjoys the flattery of a groupie (Olivia Wilde).

The story he reads occupies most of our movie-watching time. It’s about a young, struggling writer, Rory Jansen (played by Bradley Cooper), who gets the literary success he has long craved after he finds an old manuscript, puts his own name on it, and gets it published. And not just published — acclaimed as the best debut novel in years.

The third level of storytelling comes courtesy of this manuscript, a novel set in Europe. Oddly, although this has the most period flavor and romance, it’s the part of the movie that really doesn’t work especially well.

The movie has secrets to keep, and we won’t spoil the design of the writing-directing team, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, by revealing them (Klugman, incidentally, is the nephew of actor Jack Klugman).

It’s possible that they’re as impressed with their complicated structure as they are with the moral implications of their scenario. We’re teased a little too much about what Quaid’s character really has to do with the story he’s narrating, for instance. But by the time the movie arrives at its final sequences, some genuinely intriguing issues have been poked at.

In a few scenes, “The Words” really comes to life. One of them is a simple setup involving Rory sitting on a park bench with a stranger played by Jeremy Irons, a scene that is owned by Irons in more ways than one.

Bradley Cooper does well at suggesting the shallow underpinnings of Rory’s alleged talent (and it’s good to see an actor parlaying his “Hangover” success into an offbeat project like this).

Zoe Saldana (“Avatar”), as Rory’s wife, is fierce when she needs to be, and Dennis Quaid is sly and insinuating as the writer with a healthy sense of self-regard.

I can see the movie’s flaws, but for whatever reason, “The Words” makes me give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s an ambitious effort for a couple of first-time directors, with a few touches that are truly haunting.

“The Words” (3 stars)

An offbeat indie, a story-within-a-story-within-a-story that at its core is about a struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) who appropriates someone else’s manuscript and takes credit for it. Not everything clicks, but the film creates a haunting mood. With Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana.

Rated: PG-13 for subject matter.

Showing: Alderwood mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monore, Marysville, Meridian, Varsity, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.

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