By Amy Lamare, February 14, 2007
The romantic comedy has been a cinematic staple from the beginning. Who amongst us doesn’t want to believe in the whole “meet cute, be torn apart, come together and live happily ever after” super sappy romantic fairy tale? The thing is, even fairy tales get old and stale. Music & Lyrics (MUSCLY) the latest rom-com from the genre’s poster boy Hugh Grant (HGRAN) is a perfect example of all that is wrong with the state of this genre. Sweet and without substance, Music and Lyrics fails to hit the right note.
The fact that Music and Lyrics is so off key is a shame. Its premise is different and dynamic and rife with possibilities. Hugh Grant plays a washed up 80s pop star who is hired to write a song for current pop sensation Cora. Cora is an amalgam of the Britney/Xtina mold of pop superstar. Grant isn’t a lyricist, so while he feels the song he’s composed is good, it is missing an integral element. Enter Drew Barrymore (DBARR), obviously destined to turn this poor washed up sap’s fortunes around. Writer director Marc Lawrence was the man behind the 2002 Hugh Grant – Sandra Bullock rom-com Two Weeks Notice. And that, right there is the problem. Lawrence does not know how to execute an idea without falling back on the safe, trite, stale constructs of the genre. He is the cinematic equivalent of a tone deaf conductor.
The film opens with a music video of Grant in his pop star heyday as a member of a band called PoP. PoP is a duo in the mold of Wham with Grant as Andrew Ridgley. His band mate, played by Scott Porter, goes on to solo success and has beautiful women hanging on him. Grant is reduced to playing state fairs and contemplating a role on a reality TV show for washed up pop stars. Grant, Porter and PoP represent everything that has been derided about 1980s music since the decade ended. Consider then, that this relic from the 80s is now asked to create for today’s pop star.
Had Lawrence focused on the juxtaposition of the 1980s’ pop and current pop, we would have had a film with heart and substance and characters who grew in self realization by the end of the film. 1980s pop has been derided for its lack of substance over the years; but when compared to the current brand of manufactured corporate pop, suddenly the 80s take on more meaning. At least 80s pop, saccharine as it may have been was pure and born from musicians wanting to get their message out. Nowadays, over developed tweens are plucked from malls and engineered into the newest overnight success.
Anyway, back to the premise. Grant needs some lyrics for his song. This is where Drew comes in as the woman who waters his plants. I must give Lawrence some kudos for this construct, as what is more self indulgent than someone who hires another to water their plants? As luck would have it, she’s got a gift for lyrics and a heart just broken enough to infuse emotion into her lyrics.
Her character has recently been through the ringer. Her former lover used their entire affair as a plot device for his best-selling novel, with Drew as the main character. Oh and he was also her English Lit professor. At this point in her life, Drew is feeling broken and betrayed.
As is the case in most romantic comedies, Barrymore and Grant pretty much save each other’s lives. Before the chance to write the Cora song and Drew come along, Grant was resigned to joining the cast of a reality show. The premise of said show? Washed up pop stars jump in the ring for a boxing match. The winner gets the chance to relive their heyday by singing in front of a large audience.
Grant is more than plausible as the 40 something former star still living off his boyish charm. Isn’t that basically the key to Hugh Grant’s career? Barrymore is her usual quirky and adorable self. Her sense of comedic timing saves many a scene from the abyss of the unfunny. Her bohemian, ditzy vibe is a perfect foil to Grant’s stumbling, muttering floppy haired Brit.
After an above average first half, the film’s second half plays out artificially and predictably. It is as if Lawrence suddenly freaked out about his film. Did he wonder if it wasn’t formulaic enough? In the second half of the film, he seems to throw every well worn, time tested device of romantic comedies into the story. This serves no purpose other than to highlight the lack of structure in this story.
Kristen Johnson, Brad Garrett, Campbell Scott and Haley Bennett costar.
Music and Lyrics opens nationwide on February 14th.
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