Music and Lyrics
2007Director: Marc Lawrence
Cast: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore
tylus’s Non-Definitive Guide to the Romantic Comedy showed that while it’s still possible to make terrific movies that are both romantic and comedies, this is most often achieved through bending of genre and/or gender. Of the smaller set of good old-fashioned rom-coms, most are very male in their humor (i.e. Judd Apatow), and sometimes in their hanky-panky as well (i.e. Wedding Crashers). Probably because of Hollywood’s distrust of women filmmakers, more feminine approaches usually end up being as mushy-headed and -hearted as so many Sandra Bullock vehicles.
Marc Lawrence and Hugh Grant were previously responsible for a mushy Sandra Bullock vehicle (Two Weeks Notice). In Music and Lyrics, out on DVD now, they enlist Drew Barrymore, who’s a better fit. Here, she embodies a reasonable male ideal of femininity, neatly balancing Grant, who’s just the opposite. The early scenes, when she’s blabbering and oblivious and he’s blankly bemused, are very good. Their timing is spot-on, as in a running gag in which she keeps placing objects on his beloved piano and he keeps moving them off, all without breaking their dialogue. The stars (mostly Grant) deliver Lawrence’s moderately clever dialogue well enough to keep the movie entertaining even after the movie reveals itself as too conventional to be truly first-rate. The story is basic: former teen idol Alex (Grant) is asked to write a song for current teen idol Cora (the very young-looking Haley Bennett); he asks sometime poet Sophie (Barrymore) to write lyrics for his song; falling soon commences. A skillfully unpleasant appearance by Campbell Scott aside, there’s no edge to the movie: even a song called “Love Autopsy” ends up an inoffensive extended metaphor.
Now, romances don’t have to have murky moments, or make us fear the happy ending might slip out of the couple’s grasp—you don’t see enough of that in real life? But screenplays almost always include such complications, since it requires very strong writing to have your lovebirds coo together happily for most of the movie without them shrinking to sitcom size. When Scott turns up as a novelist with history with Sophie, you might expect he’ll be a relatively entertaining catalyst for such conflict. Nope, Scott’s role is small, and instead we later have Alex act like a jerk to set up his final redemption. (The problem with final redemptions is that they’re generally preceded by a great deal of drab wistfulness.)
To their credit, Hugh and Drew manage to portray their pining without overplaying—Barrymore even saves her puppy dog pout for happy moments, not sad ones. Together, they have the chemistry to convince you that if they spent enough songwriting time together, of course they’d fall for each other. The obvious comparison is to Once, another contemporary musical about creative collaboration, except Once is unconventional enough that you don’t notice its music and lyrics aren’t that great until it’s over. In Music and Lyrics, you notice it pretty quickly.
Adam Schlesinger’s big songs, a power ballad and a win-you-back torch song, are much worse than anything on the latest Fountains of Wayne album, let alone his near-classic “That Thing You Do.” The movie’s pastiches are more interesting, if only for accuracy: “Meaningless Kiss” is as close to copyright infringement (of “Careless Whisper”) as anything the Rutles did. The best part of the movie is the very beginning: the opening clip for “Pop! Goes My Heart,” co-written and produced by Andrew Blakemore (who appears in the clip as the guitarist) might seem to betray itself with silliness unless you’ve seen George and Andy’s “Wham Rap!” video parents enjoying what they do. It thus feels like a betrayal when the leads start spouting rockist nonsense about how creativity has to be from the heart. Does anyone require Hugh and Drew to start dating for the movie to mean anything?
It is possible to believe that in the movie’s universe, the songs really are good (unlike Sophie’s poetry, which speed readers will place as MySpace-level doggerel. It even rhymes.). And when Grant breaks into his creaky baritone, he achieves a rare-for-him winsomeness. When he and Barrymore perform their duet, all their insecurities melt away, and so will your qualms. You might even pout like a puppy.
By: Brad Luen
Published on: 2007-10-01