A straight-up romantic comedy for all the Valentines out there
The crop of date movies in theaters this Valentine's Day is pretty thin--witness dogs like Because I Said So and Catch and Release that warrant avoidance unless your idea of a good date is being bored senseless. But lo--romantic comedy veterans Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore (they have at least 15 heart-throbbers between them) teamed up for Music and Lyrics, which opens--not coincidentally--today.
In Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant (Love Actually, Bridget Jones's Diary) plays washed-up '80's band has-been Alex Fletcher. After a successful run with fictional Wham!-like band PoP, Alex wound up the Andrew Ridgeley to PoP's George Michael. That is, when PoP's lead singer left for a successful solo career, Alex was reduced to working amusement parks and high school reunions to get by. But he's made his peace with that, and will do his patented PoP dance moves to screaming throngs of aging soccer moms at whatever depressing venue will hire him so long as it will pay the rent.
Just when even those sad opportunities seem to be drying up, Alex gets his shot at being a viable, solvent artist again. It seems that reigning music diva Cora (in a send-up of Britney Spears-type artists) thinks his retro sound is just what she needs. She asks him to write a new duet for her to suit the title "Way Back Into Love," which she wants to perform at the kick-off of her new album at Madison Square Garden in just a few days (insert ticking clock here). But while Alex is a talented melodic composer, he has absolutely no facility with words.
Alex's faithful manager Chris Riley (Everybody Loves Raymond's Brad Garrett) tries to set him up with possible lyricists to no avail. But when a quirky ex-writer named Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore) shows up at Alex's apartment to cover for his usual plant lady, it turns out that she might be the answer to his prayers--musical and otherwise.
Music and Lyrics was written and directed by Marc Lawrence, a man who has made his name in the romantic comedy genre with movies like Miss Congeniality and Two Weeks' Notice. To that end, it isn't surprising that Music and Lyrics pretty much sticks to formula. Fortunately, Lawrence is someone who can handle formula fairly well.
Grant is just a perfect choice for Fletcher, mostly because of his tremendous sense of humor about himself. He has absolutely no problem looking silly, in fact he seems to relish in it. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the absolutely fantastic opening sequence, in which Lawrence recreated a prototypically über-cheesy '80's music video. A little bit Flock of Seagulls, a little bit Robert Palmer, a little bit Wham!, it is absolutely glorious in its hideousness and had a theater full of usually blasé critics rolling with laughter.
Furthermore, Grant actually learned how to sing and play the piano for Music and Lyrics. He might make the part of Alex Fletcher look like your standard romantic comedy lead, but it turns out he actually had to work quite a bit to make it look so easy--even going so far as having to play piano and sing in front of a virtual stadium full of extras. Call me easy, but I was impressed.
Barrymore (50 First Dates, Never Been Kissed) seems on paper like sensible casting for Sophie Fisher. She can pull of quirk and obviously has opened lots of movies in her time. And she looks terrific in this film (seriously, Drew, who's the new stylist?). Unfortunately, it seemed to me that the part was written for someone naturally even quirkier--think in the Zooey Deschanel or Selma Blair realm, but they don't have the box office power a movie like this demands of its leading lady. So instead, Barrymore is pushing the eccentricity angle a little hard.
Plus, the character of Sophie isn't written as well as Alex's, so sometimes she was running around being nutty and I couldn't quite get why. For example, during her first meetings with Alex, Sophie is acting like a fast-talking whack-job (why does fast-talking chick=funny?), running out of the apartment, and or freaking out at the notion of writing for him without any explanation why. It doesn't come off as mysterious (oh, she has some demons, I wonder what they are); it just reads as muddled. Lawrence would be better advised to take his audience into his confidence a little earlier with what makes Sophie tick so we have a smidgen of an idea what is going on.
As for the pairing of Grant and Barrymore, that was disappointing. First, Barrymore is about 15 years younger than Grant, so they just look odd together. She's someone with a bit of a babyface, and he kind of needs a more womanly person opposite him--unless Lawrence wanted it to look like Alex wanted to date his daughter. But since that isn't ever mentioned as part of his charactre, they could have at least addressed the very obvious age difference somewhere. More importantly, Grant and Barrymore have zero chemistry. No lingering looks, no heat or nervousness when they're together. They’re just there. And then all of a sudden, a love scene comes out of nowhere and there is so much chemistry you could blow up a biology lab. For 95% of the time, it's like watching my carpeting talk to my laminate floor, and then suddenly you needed to wipe me down with a wet nap. It's still so odd, I don't even know what to make of it.
It's a shame that the meat of the movie doesn't live up to the standard set by the PoP video with which it opens. But if it did--oh, what a rare pleasure that would have been. All in all, though, Music and Lyrics is cute. It isn't going to blow the roof off romantic comedies, but the music (written by Fountains of Wayne bass player Adam Schlesinger, who also wrote the title song for That Thing You Do!) is very catchy, and it gets the job done.
Available Subtitles: English, Spanish, FrenchAvailable Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)Additional scenesGag reelNote for Note: The making of Music and Lyrics"PoP! Goes My Heart" music video
What's on the disc