Music and Lyrics

| February 20, 2007

My brother and his wife decided to see Music and Lyrics for one of their rare, cherished date nights. Good for them, but I couldn’t help but ask, with all the Oscar nominated films out in theaters right now, why choose Music and Lyrics?
Sure, I understand the appeal of Hugh Grant. His famous indiscretion years ago only enhanced his career because Grant exploits his image in brilliant ways. Nobody makes fun of Hugh Grant’s persona like Grant himself. More impressive, when playing cads in films like American Dreamz and About a Boy, Grant remains likeable despite his self-aware parody.
As Alex Fletcher in Music and Lyrics, Grant portrays a washed-up ’80s pop star given one last opportunity at stardom. Young singer Cora Corman (think Britney Spears before she threw her career away) asks him to write a song for her by the end of the week, so Fletcher must find a lyricist. Enter his substitute plant caretaker, Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), whom Alex begs to help him after she mumbles a few catchy lyrics while watering the plants.
The rest you can probably figure out for yourselves. Complications include the fact that Sophie suffered a confidence-shattering breakup years before and has yet to recover. Worse, her former lover has exploited her humiliation by publishing a book about their affair. As a result, Sophie hides from life, refusing to take another chance.
Alex takes his own daily humiliation in stride. He plays gigs at local fairs and amusement parks, but his now middle-aged female fans always arrive to cheer him on. Alex makes a living and accepts that life sometimes sucks, while Sophie mourns her boxed-up dreams. Together they decide to reach again for the brass ring.
I was disappointed that Grant’s character was not as well developed as Sophie’s. Alex was left behind when his friend and partner in the 80s band pursued a successful solo career. Though Alex makes casual reference to drug use as his means to survive his own failed solo career, we see few ramifications from what must have been a devastating few years. His casual acceptance of mediocrity prevents his character from resonating on more than one level. Grant’s performance is uneven as well. Sometimes he seems to be going through the motions, and he fails to connect with the dialogue or other characters. But he comes alive with Barrymore. Their chemistry as buddies is effective even though they lack an electric sexual tension. Barrymore plays her usual quirky, endearing self, and if you like her shtick, you will like her here.
Brad Garrett isn’t given much to do as Alex’s manager, and Kristen Johnston elicits a few small chuckles as star struck Pop fan Rhonda Fisher. Haley Bennett as Cora Corman can’t act worth a darn, but she’s thin, blonde, and sings with the typical light and feathery voice of a Britney wannabe–a Christina Aguilera-caliber singer she is not. The music isn’t anything to write home about, but I enjoyed watching Alex work with his computer to create a track for Corman’s approval. Technology is neat. It is too bad, though, that Marc Lawrence chose not to cast a real pop star as Corman. Just think of the satirical possibilities of Lindsay Lohan playing a clueless, obscenely sexual starlet.
Director Marc Lawrence also wrote the screenplay for Music and Lyrics. He has worked with both Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock in the past (Bullock has been in four of his films, actually), so he knows well the territory of romantic comedy. He keeps the film moving and delivers the expected sappy moments of love discovered, thwarted, and reunited with sincerity if not novelty. As a screenwriter, however, he falters, especially during the deeper moments. Here’s Alex trying to challenge Sophie to take control of her life: “you are terribly afraid…to stand on your own two feet.” Her response? “Wow, I didn’t expect that.” These moments in which everything becomes clear with one line of clichéd dialogue are unfortunate, but the strength of the film derives from the light-hearted banter between Grant and Barrymore. The music video of Grant’s band in the ’80s is alone is worth the $10.
My brother reported back that on a scale of 1-10, he would give this movie a 6. But it satisfied their expectations for a “date movie,” which he defines as fun, with little thought required. Certainly, Music and Lyrics satisfies that criteria.

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