Sunday, February 18, 2007

Movie Review: "Music and Lyrics"

Starring Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnston and Campbell Scott
Directed by Marc Lawrence

Official Web site

Mixing a bit of musical satire with a highly unlikely “meet-cute” situation for its two main characters, and you’ve got the main thrust of “Music and Lyrics,” a slight but enjoyable romantic comedy. Starring that sub-genre’s main go-to guy, Hugh Grant, and the dependable Drew Barrymore, the pic gets a lot of mileage from the oddly inspired pairing of the two stars.

Reuniting with writer-director Marc Lawrence (“Two Weeks Notice”), Grant stars as Alex Fletcher, a former member of a 1980s pop music band called, appropriately enough, PoP!, who has seen his musical prospects practically disappear since one of the band members left to have a hugely successful solo career. (Any similarity to 80s band Wham! is quite likely intentional.)

But set 20-some years after the peak of his success, the movie finds Alex far from a bitter and depressed musician. In fact, he’s quite content to live in the past and practically embraces the label of “has-been.” Playing concerts at amusement parks, high school reunions and the like, Alex has seemingly long since settled into his downward career path. That is, until his manager (Brad Garrett) presents him with the opportunity to write a new song for red-hot young singer Cora Corman (Haley Bennett, seemingly playing a hybrid of Britney Spears, Shakira and Madonna). The problem is he only has a few days to do so, and while being a great writer of musical melodies, admits his lyric writing skills stink.

Enter Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), his plant waterer (yes, you read that right) who happens to demonstrate some song writing ability one day in his apartment. Impressed and desperate, Alex eventually convinces Sophie to help him craft a song to get to Cora by the end of the week. Naturally, infatuation and then love starts sinking in as the duo spend the week together.

Even in the unlikely world of romantic comedies, the situation that Alex and Sophie find themselves is rather preposterous. But Grant and Barrymore are among the most affable movie stars performing today, which helps make the leaps of logic this story requires. Adding solid support is Garrett and Kristen Johnston, as Sophie’s older sister. Both Garrett and Johnston bring many years of sitcom experience to the film, which would certainly seem to be quite at home on a TV screen.

As the somewhat shallow but likable Alex, Grant proves that no one performs self-deprecating humor quite as well as he does. He’s practically made a career of it, yet this musician he is portraying here is quite distant from his portrayal of a one-hit wonder musician in the great “About a Boy.” Alex seems to harbor no real resentment of how his career has turned out. He just needs someone to shake him out of his complacency a little bit. Likewise, Sophie hasn’t really been living up to her full potential, as a painful college experience with a duplicitous professor has left her scared to pursue her passions.

Movies like this can sink or swim on the chemistry of the lead actors, with Grant and Barrymore’s mismatched characters proving to be a pretty good fit. Credit certainly has to go to the two stars, as well as the music of Adam Schlesinger (from the band Fountains of Wayne). There’s a number of catchy tunes in the film, particularly “PoP! Goes My Heart,” which is accompanied by a dead-on parody of 80s music videos. The vision of an overemoting Hugh Grant in pouffy hair while dancing in ridiculously tight clothing certainly shows an actor devoted to his craft, if nothing else. And just try to get that song out of your head after the end credits roll.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.)

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