Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Marc Lawrence

Cast: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Haley Bennett, Kristen Johnston, Campbell Scott

MPAA Rating:   (for some sexual content)

Running Time: 1:36

Release Date: 2/14/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

In spite of its formulaic trappings, Music and Lyrics is as sweet and likeable as its title is bland—in another word, quite. Milking the established screen personas of Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore for all their worth, the film succeeds at the basic level romantic comedies must succeed, in that it features two characters we would like to see together by the time the credits roll. Amazing, really, that most romantic comedies fail on this primary level and that one which actually accomplishes this seems like such a small diamond in the genre rough. There's nothing new or revolutionary the film adds to genre, but certain elements of its conventional journey from start to finish seem fresh. The reason: What happens is predictable, but how it happens, more times than not, stems from the characters. Although the clichéd conventions and progression of the genre are here (seemingly incompatible couple meets, falls in love, breaks off relationship, and gets back together in some overly sentimental way), writer/director Marc Lawrence cares more about his characters than fulfilling the obligatory standards set forth by so many genre clones.

The credits roll over a dead-on spoof of an '80s music video, featuring the pop band PoP and their big, insufferably catchy hit "Pop! Goes My Heart." The '80s are now only retro kitsch, and Alex Fletcher (Grant), one of the two founders of the band (the other has gone on to great success), is meeting to appear on "Battle of the '80s Has-beens." Unfortunately, he learns it’s a boxing show, not a music competition. Spending his dwindling fame working at hotel and theme park engagements, Alex's manager Chris (Brad Garrett) finally gives him some good news. A young teenage pop star named Cora Corman (a beautiful but awkward Haley Bennett) likes his music with PoP and wants to give him a chance to write her new song. Alex can handle melody, but after his universally panned lyrically attempts on his first and only solo album, he has no intention of repeating that debacle. Enter Sophie Fisher (Barrymore), a replacement plant-waterer with an uncanny knack for finishing rhymes. As it turns out, Sophie is a displaced writer, and Alex decides to take a risk and take her on as his lyricist for the project.

Of course, their personalities clash. Barrymore is her characteristic intelligent but constantly frazzled character; Grant is his smarmily charming persona. Grant's ability to exude sarcasm is taken advantage of from the beginning, as he assures the network executives for the boxing special that, yes, he is a "happy has-been." And why wouldn't he be? He has women in their late 30s going crazy over him when he performs at 20-year high school reunions at hotel banquet halls, although it is getting harder to do the band's famous "hip pop" move without straining a few important muscles. Sophie's undergoing some hard times, too. A best-selling novel written by a former professor of hers (played by Campbell Scott) has been released. The book's plot more than resembles the affair they had, although he turns her literary alter-ego into a manipulative home wrecker and criticizes her writing in the process. Alex would help Sophie out with the writing, but he informs her that he once rhymed "you and me" and "autopsy." The movie's first act follows the pair's writing process and hints at character elements that come into play once a relationship kick starts. Lawrence breezes through it, and once the song is completed, there's a moment of curiosity as to where the film will go.

That's cleared up fairly quickly once Alex and Sophie consummate a romance, and again, the plot takes a predictable route as trouble arises between them. What makes the formula work is Lawrence's emphasis on establishing the foundation of their relationship and making the conflict issue from a difference in musical ideology. Alex and Sophie actually have a relationship of mutual support: He for her writing and past; she for his silly pop songs. When the relationship hits rocky turf, it's because of something stupid said but also because they don't feel the same way about the song. Sophie thinks Cora will ruin it (her description, "It was like an orgasm set to the Gandhi soundtrack," is probably best), but Alex doesn't care. This is his way back in to the business—important as the term he uses to describe what music is to him. The film's attitude toward the music industry is a bit contradictory, wanting to criticize its shallowness then ultimately using it as the reconciling factor for the leads' central conflict—odder still since the conflict arises from cynicism of the industry in the first place. The song itself is also forgettable and simple, but then again, what could one expect from a song that's praised by an artist like Cora?

These are primarily background concerns, though, and the film is more perceptive about finding jabs at the music industry than it might seem. What's important beyond the flaws and humor is the core relationship, which succeeds just fine. Music and Lyrics isn't trying to redefine the genre, but it is a charming reminder that a romantic comedy can be romantic and funny.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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