Pros: Some genuine laughs, decent cast, "different" premise.
Cons: Weird mix of comedy and serious tone doesn't always work.
A Thousand Words is a movie that some will love, others will hate. As for me, I find myself with mixed feelings about it. Perhaps that’s because the movie seemed to have mixed feelings about itself. It simply couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. Slapstick Eddie Murphy comedy? Or serious-themed film with a sweet message? It tries to be both, but I’m not sure if it completely pulled off either.
Eddie Murphy plays Jack McCall, a successful literary agent. Fast-talking, wheeling-dealing, this guy can close any deal. When he learns a very popular spiritual guru (Cliff Curtis) has written a book, Jack wants the exclusive. Playing fast and loose with the truth, Jack gets the deal. And a whole lot more, in the bargain.
A “magic tree” suddenly sprouts in Jack’s yard. Eventually it becomes clear that for every word Jack speaks or writes, the tree will lose a leaf. Once Jack comes to this realization, he estimates there are 1000 leaves left. Thus he has 1000 words left to speak, before the tree is bare, and Jack will die.
Furthermore, Jack and the tree seem to become “one”. Meaning, what the tree “feels”, Jack feels. So, when the tree is watered, Jack sweats. Take an axe to a tree limb, and Jack will feel the cut.
The rest of the movie follows Jack over the next few days as he tries to conserve his words, while he figures out a long-term solution. And, of course, it would be nice if Jack can manage not to lose his job and his marriage in the process.
Ok – Love it or hate it – that’s the premise. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, it’s unrealistic. And, Yes, some people will hate the movie from the get-go simply because of its premise.
I didn’t hate the premise. I felt the tree losing leaves was an interesting way to get the point across that our words have meaning, that they should be used wisely, not wasted. Especially given Jack’s vice of speaking quickly and bending truths at will. The movie-makers wanted a way for Jack to lean his lesson and of course they could have used any number of devices to do so. But to me, the tree just seemed like a clever way to get that point across.
Getting past the premise, to the actual movie – that’s where there will be disagreement. After all, the “message” is a fairly serious one. But Eddie Murphy is who Eddie Murphy is. Therefore we have a whole bunch of slapstick comedy tossed into the mix. I’ll give you just one example – we are shown the tree and two squirrels chasing each other around the trunk. Since Jack feels what the tree “feels”, he feels a tickling sensation on his legs which leads to a spastic dance leaving those around him feeling that Jack is very drunk. Or mentally ill.
That’s the kind of slapstick humor I’m talking about. Some will enjoy these scenes; others will cringe. I sort of did both. There were, indeed, some very cute, funny scenes. But all along I felt that those scenes were somewhat out of place in this movie.
Murphy’s performance was – well – what you would expect it to be. Except that this movie is rated PG-13, not R. So the language was toned down quite a bit. There are a few expletives, but not nearly as many as one might expect. This is a good thing, in my opinion, as this movie is fine for the teenage audience.
Kerry Washington plays Murphy’s wife. Her performance is fine, but she’s given very little to work with. I enjoyed watching Jack’s assistant (Clark Duke) – some of his one-liners were the funniest in the movie. Plus, we get the always funny Jack McBrayer (Kenneth from 30 Rock) as a Starbucks employee. Add Allison Janney and Ruby Dee, and you have a well-rounded cast, doing their best with the material given.
I enjoyed A Thousand Words and would recommend it if you’re looking for a sometimes-funny, sometimes-cringe-worthy movie with a sweet message. I would give it 3.5 stars, if I could, as something just a bit better than average. But I’ll round up for including McBrayer.