Music and Lyrics

| February 18, 2007

Romantic comedies often rely less on logic and more on charm. That’s the name of the game with movie love. That’s what we want as an audience–possibility, not reality. To think any differently would be to lie to our selves. With that being said, Music and Lyrics, the latest frothy cinematic concoction from writer/director Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks Notice) and actor Hugh Grant, may not make too much sense, but it’s easy to watch and that’s all that really matters in the end.
Hugh Grant plays Alex Fletcher, the second most famous member of the ’80s sensation, Pop. Alex is living off royalty checks and performing his faded hit songs on nostalgia tours (Knotts Berry Farm!) and hasn’t written a new song in years. He’s a man who’s squarely living in the past and not afraid to admit it. Unfortunately for Alex there are newer has-beens coming along all the time and he needs to get his name out there again.
Enter his longtime manager and only friend, Chris (Brad Garrett). Chris has exactly what Alex needs–an offer from current teen pop idol Cora Corman. Cora’s a big Pop fan and wants Alex to write her a song–in three days. She gives him a title and then, poof, disappears like the magic plot genie she is. Alex weighs the offer, not sure he can do it, but fully aware that he has to, or lose the good life he so enjoys.
Cue Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), the substitute for Alex’s regular plant lady. She arrives in the nick of time to water Alex’s plants and just so happens to mumble a few lyrics while spritzing a cactus. Voilà! We have a songwriting team. (I’m telling you now, don’t fixate on the logic–it doesn’t exist.) It takes a few scenes, but eventually our intrepid duo is at the piano, up all night, fighting the deadline, learning to love each other’s quirks and digging for chart topping gold in the process.
It’s a romantic comedy so Drew Barrymore’s Sophie is ditsy and free-spirited. She talks a lot and has a quirky penchant for hypochondria during moments of social pressure (Woody Allen, anyone?). It’s a toned down performance for Barrymore. She’s the sweet center, the lesson to be learned in the story. She seems to take a laid back approach to Sophie, which lends the character a winning sense of understated charm.
Hugh Grant plays Alex with all the droll brit wit you’ve come to expect from Hugh Grant. Grant’s Alex is not much different than the characters he’s played in Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Two Weeks Notice. It’s a signature role that depends often on the leading lady and the background of the character he’s playing. This performance falls solidly somewhere in the middle–not as good as Four Weddings and a Funeral, not as bad as Two Weeks Notice. Thankfully, Alex–as far as character’s go – is a likable guy, even when he acts like a jerk; and Barrymore and Grant seem to spark on screen in a natural way.
You won’t find many surprises in Music and Lyrics. That’s okay. Writer/director Marc Lawrence keeps the proceedings moving along at a brisk pace, which helps immensely with the lapses in story logic and the well-worn nature of the story. One thing to look for amidst the expected is the performance of newcomer Haley Bennett as Cora Corman. Cora’s a cross between Shakira and Christina Aguilera. Cora’s big into Buddhism and Haley plays it to the hilt. Though she’s not in the story much, when she is, she adds a truly whacky vibe to it that’s refreshing.
The one note that I had was that romance, at least in the first half of the film, doesn’t seem to be the main focus. It’s almost an afterthought. It’s not until the second half of the picture that the thought of love enters into the story. The plot is so focused on Alex’s career and the writing of the song, there isn’t an awkward moment or kiss until after its written. It’s an odd choice, or accident, but it may just be a saving grace for the film. You’re only allowed an hour, instead of two, to wonder if these two really belong together. Not that it’s really needed, but it takes the pressure off the possibility of romance in a good way.
Music and Lyrics is what it is: charming. It’s all about possibilities and fantasy. It may not make much sense, but it really doesn’t try to and that’s for the best. Grant and Barrymore are easy to watch and the story never lingers or explains. As far as Romantic comedies go these days, things could be a lot worse.

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