Music and Lyrics
Cute, uncomplicated romantic comedy has a beat you can dance to
Music and Lyrics
Directed by Marc Lawrence
Cast: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnston
Let’s face facts: Romantic comedies were a worn-out genre back when Howard Hawks was coaxing screwball chemistry out of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Seventy years on, the boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-gets-girl conventions are about as rigidly defined as you can find in film. The best praise you can heap on just about any modern romcom is the same noncommittal description that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reserves for planet Earth: “Mostly harmless.”
As romantic comedies go, Music and Lyrics is mostly harmless. The film employs two likable stars (Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, both so gosh darn cute in their own way) in service to a mildly entertaining plot and some catchy tunes. (The actors all perform their own vocals, and most of the songs are surprisingly credible.) Coming out as it does on Valentine's Day, the film serves—much like that Whitman's Sampler you can buy at Walgreens—as a cheap, airy and momentarily enjoyable confection.
Hugh Grant uses all his trademark stammer and toothy British charm to play Alex Fletcher, one half of an incredibly popular ’80s pop duo, known rather unimaginatively as PoP! Whereas his bandmate has gone onto fame and fortune, Alex is stuck on the nostalgia circuit, performing at high school reunions and second-rate amusement parks for small, swooning clusters of middle-aged ladies. Music and Lyrics actually does a fair job of recreating without entirely lampooning the Duran Duran/Wham! era of popular music. (An opening credit music video is spot-on MTV circa 1984.)
While considering selling his soul for a guest spot on the new reality series “Battle of the Washed-Up ’80s Stars,” Alex gets thrown a career lifeline. Seems America’s hottest teen idol, Cora Corman (newby Haley Bennett, more or less channeling Shakira), is a big fan. She wants Alex to pen her new single. No pressure though. If it doesn’t work out, she's got a half dozen other ’80s acts waiting in the wings.
Alex’s big problem (besides his impossible one-week deadline) is that he hasn’t written a song since PoP! broke up. What he needs is a lyricist. And fast. He finds one in Sophie Fisher (Barrymore), a dotty wannabe writer who just happens to be subbing for Alex’s vacationing plant waterer. OK, so it’s a lame excuse to get two people together. But Music and Lyrics isn’t actually in any rush to get our boy and our girl in a lip-lock. Most of the film, in fact, is simply about the process of writing a song and the sometimes nasty business of the music industry. Will Alex and Sophie be able to collaborate? Will Cora even like the song? And if she does, will she simply mangle it with her Britney-meets-Buddhism style?
At its best, Music and Lyrics finds a harmonious kinship between pop music and romantic comedies. Both are largely mindless bits of piffle designed for mass consumption. And yet, when one or the other is done right, it can become something much larger than the sum of its simple parts.
Music and Lyrics works mostly because it doesn’t try too hard to pump its audience full of sap. Alex and Sophie eventually do fall into bed together, but even then there’s no guarantee they’ll make a couple. Thankfully, the film also avoids the “Big Lie” premise to break up the happy couple. She's not secretly dating him on a bet. He’s not actually the president of the United States. Of course, there is the requisite happy ending, complete with Very Public Display of Affection; but those looking for pure chick flick fodder may be disappointed with the film’s minimal kissy-face action. Me, I’m fine with the sappy setting on “low.”
The script does give short shrift to a couple of interesting ideas. Alex’s jealousy over his old bandmate could have been better explored, and the suggestion that Sophie may be a manipulative fame whore is never really expanded upon. But then, Music and Lyrics isn’t too concerned with stirring up drama. It just wants to give us a few inconsequential laughs, sing a few nice songs and get us out the door in time for our reservation at Olive Garden.