Music and Lyrics Review
By Joe Lozito
In Charm's Way
You're not going to find a much more charming on-screen couple than Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant - she of the off-kilter smirk and he of the foppish stammer. The two stars are ideally cast in "Music and Lyrics", a romantic comedy which springs fully-formed from the Hollywood script mill with by-the-numbers formulaic perfection. While there's nothing new here - the film is as fluffy and forgettable as the early 80s songs it parodies - there's something comforting about the exceedingly average. With "Music", you know exactly what you're going to get.
In "Music", Mr. Grant plays Alex Fletcher, a has-been from fictional 80s super-group "Pop!" (their big hit: "Pop Goes My Heart"). Though in the film's trailer it appears that Mr. Grant's character is a Simon Le Bon clone, it's actually much better than that: he's an Andrew Ridgeley clone. While his former lyricist went on to bigger and better things, Alex languished in obscurity, putting out a panned solo album and doing appearances at Knott's Berry Farm. Until, that is, the 80s reunions started - a moment Mr. Grant describes with the perfect note of wistfulness ("I was glad to see them and they were glad to see me…we were both a little older").
The conceit of the film is that a new Britney/Christina/Shakira-type megastar, Cora, is a huge Pop! fan and has picked Alex to pen her a new hit (its never explained why she picks him over the more popular member of Pop!). But without his former writing partner, Alex is stuck - until, by the grace of the romantic comedy gods, he meets Sophie (Ms. Barrymore), his new plant-waterer (yes, you read that right), who also happens to have a gift for rhyme and a seemingly endless amount of free time on her hands.
Written and directed by Marc Lawrence, who also teamed up with Mr. Grant on 2002's equally bland "Two Weeks Notice", "Music and Lyrics" never rises above the average. The songs themselves are sadly forgettable, the Cora character (newcomer Haley Bennett) is not just vacant, she's completely empty and the rest of the cast is wasted in underwritten supporting roles (Brad Garrett and Kristen Johnston do their best). Couldn't there have been just a note of satire? A hint of mockery? An intimation of edginess to dust the cobwebs off this rehashed plot? Sadly, there's none to be found here.
There is a moment in the film when Sophie chides Alex for buying into Cora's pandering, but the irony is that "Music and Lyrics" itself is guilty of the same thing; the script and characters are so exceedingly safe and adhere so faithfully to the romantic comedy guidebook that there's seldom a moment of suspense or truth in the film.
What there is to love in "Music" is a tribute to the high-wattage star charisma of its two leads. Mr. Grant has always been a reliable romantic lead, and Ms. Barrymore has the potential to step into the shoes left empty by Meg Ryan and Goldie Hawn before her (though a few years ago I would have bet on Kate Hudson for that). She has that rare ability to make neurosis and vulnerability immediately loveable. In a recent "Saturday Night Live" appearance, Ms. Barrymore remarked that she tires of the same old boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back romantic comedies (before proceeding to cleverly enact a mini-version with Adam Sandberg and the SNL cast). Let's hope, for the sake of romantic comedies everywhere, she was just kidding.