And that tale is this: A struggling, young writer goes to Paris on his honeymoon and, in a secondhand shop so quaint even Woody Allen wouldn't have been ashamed to buy something there, buys a beat-up antique satchel that will, he thinks, give him the cachet of a published writer, even if no one has published him yet.
It turns out that courtesy of a little heavy-handed O. Henry plotting, the satchel contains a superb unpublished novel in manuscript form - a clump of typewritten splendor on onionskin paper. Our literary aspirant reads the book and is dumbfounded. There, from an unknown source, is exactly the kind of book he had always hoped to write.
He doesn't tell his wife. But so strong is the manuscript's magnetic pull, he turns to it in mild despair one night.
And he types the novel, word for word, comma for comma, from the onionskin into his computer. Just to get the feel of the real thing "through his fingers."
But then his wife gets a look at it, having no idea of its unknown and mysterious provenance. She cries and tells him it's his best work. He's got to publish it.
So far so good. You could get something full of wit and nasty moral discomfort out of a good and juicy plagiarism yarn, especially when our aspirant does exactly that, becoming the literary toast of the town and, on a park bench, coming nose to nose with the elderly, shabbily dressed and chicken-necked old man who actually wrote the book he's passed off as his own.
Pretty good stuff, actually.
Oh all right, the tone's all wrong to be sure - somewhere midway between "The Notebook" and "The Hours" complete with Marcelo Zarvos' tacky, romanticized travesty of the latter's wonderful minimalist musical score by Phillip Glass.
Before the town is toasting him, the writer meets a functionary in the literary world who asks "what kind of stuff do you write?" "Angry young man, I guess" is his answer. To which the successful literary functionary replies "I used to write like that. Now I write sci-fi." And if that sounds like something that might be spoken or written by people who have even the vaguest notion of literature, you may need both a movie gift certificate at Christmas and a library card.
There is, then, a megaton of pseudo-knowing "literary" malarkey here, but the basic plot is damn good - a callow, slightly spoiled young fellow who accidentally unearths an unknown literary gem written by a man who happens to be very much alive, if not exactly well.
It's all surrounded by lots of love stuff. No one would have made the film if it weren't.
In the outermost story (the frame tale, the narratologists call it), Dennis Quaid plays the hack who reads from his novel "The Words" (note the generic similarity to "The Hours") to an audience that includes a very nubile young woman eager to translate the evening into a signed book, shared intimaces over wine and whatever else might follow.
In the next story, Bradley Cooper is the thieving young writer who wants his voice "to be heard," Zoe Saldana is his troubled lady. The old man is played by Jeremy Irons, whose flashback tale of youth and literature is the tragic kernel of it all.
That's a lot of structural razzle-dazzle and moral weight to give a story which only needed to be romantic gush - and isn't at all well-written at that.
Even there, though, the movie presents as its irreducible moral issue its author telling us that it's all really about whether or not one prefers life or art.
The answer supplied by the movie seems to me almost subversive, given the demographic target of its appeal.
It's more like a pretentious old wallow like "Youngblood Hawke" than "The Hours" perhaps, but there's nothing about Irons' character that's completely predictable here.
So yeah, it's kind of a beat-up relic of a movie but, like the satchel at its narrative core, there's some unexpectedly cool stuff inside.