Combined Rating: 2.25/5
Imagine The Wedding Singer retooled as a Hugh Grant vehicle and you have Music and Lyrics. The plot is different, but it basically feels like a lesser version of the same movie. Grant’s “Alex Fletcher” is a pop-culture has-been (a la “the other guy from WHAM”) clinging to scraps of fame by gigging at local state fairs and the like. Enter the same female lead (Drew Barrymore) ten years on and give her a name way less memorable than “Julia Guglia.” She waters his plants, ends up writing supposedly brilliant song lyrics for him at a pivotal career moment, and you can guess the rest. Practically everything about this admittedly cute story is a rehash. Even the ‘80’s parody feels parodied. That being said, the opener heyday video of Grant’s ‘80’s band “Pop” is the funniest part of a film that treads water from start to finish. But even that token laugh feels borrowed.
Although the film technically has no reason to exist and fills no unique space, it’s still passable enough as benign entertainment, if only to watch the ever watchable Grant do that bumbling shtick that only he (and Jeff Goldblum) can do. The screenplay is rather witty, if Grant is indeed sticking to it. The rest feels like window dressing left over from the set of almost any cosmopolitan chick flick. The original songs are uninspired, unlike the far superior efforts made for Sing Street. If you just focus on Grant’s performance, you might feel the slightest twinge of pity for his character. He’s just so darn excited to be back on the horse that he confuses novelty for love. In other words, Barrymore’s “Sophie” isn’t exactly a prize to be fawned over. She’s kind of a quirky mess. I think they’re both just bored. But hey, it’s better to not be lonely, I guess. She does predictably walk away for concocted reasons at the end of the second act, but Alex summons the creativity to rescue the relationship, not on a plane to Vegas, but at a “Cora” mega-concert at which he’s performing their new co-written song. Let’s just say Hollywood “liberties” are taken, and a much larger crowd goes wild.
This film should have been made in the actual ‘80’s when the paint on the numbers was fresher. We should have known at the outset when our secret recommender claimed it was a movie he wouldn’t watch more than “twice.” Try once. If you’re tired of re-screening The Wedding Singer but still crave the formula, you might just fancy the dandy and the plant girl making nice.
I was surprised that I’d never heard of Music and Lyrics before, since it’s a chick flick starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, and therefore seemed right up my alley. I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily a huge Drew Barrymore fan—I usually think she seems a little too intentionally cutesy—but I did love her portrayal of Cinderella in Ever After. Hugh Grant stars in a couple of my favorite chick flicks (Notting Hill and Two Week’s Notice). He always plays the same bashful, shallow, self-effacing character, but I like that character, so it works. It also was a bit easier to convince Frank to watch it than it might have been otherwise, since Hugh Grant happens to play a washed-up 80s pop star… so hey, everybody wins! I had high hopes, and thought Music and Lyrics might even have the potential to become a new favorite. Alas, that… didn’t happen. I can see why I’d never heard of it before.
The quick recap: has-been pop star Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) gets a shot at a comeback by competing to write a song for the biggest pop star of the day, Cora (Haley Bennett). But Alex only writes melodies, not lyrics. As he works with a potential lyricist, he gets a surprise visit from a neurotic girl he’s never seen before, hired to water his plants. (Of course she’s neurotic, because the female lead in a chick flick is always a little bit neurotic—that’s supposed to be part of her charm. But Drew Barrymore’s Sophie takes this too far, I think. She pricks her finger on a thorn, interrupts Alex and his lyricist with sudden terror of infection if she doesn’t get antibiotics RIGHT NOW, and then abruptly leaves to get some. She never again exhibits hypochondriasis after this opening sequence, making it seem forced—like it’s only there to increase the drama of their ‘meet cute.’) Anyway, when Sophie returns, she hums to herself, interjecting lyrics that Alex likes much better. He begs for her help. She requires a great deal of convincing, having been emotionally wounded by a former lit professor/boyfriend and made to doubt her talent, but ultimately she agrees. I understand that genre films are necessarily somewhat predictable, but this one held absolutely zero surprises from this point on. Slight spoiler alert if you can’t already guess: they fall in love. Cora (whose character is basically a cross between Britney Spears and Taylor Swift) chooses their song, but hyper-sexualizes it, and throws in some weird Buddhist/Indian influences for good measure. Sophie rebels against Cora’s interpretation because it’s not true to her art. She and Alex part ways over this, and she thinks he used her just to get a boost for his career. But then, in the most dramatic and public way possible, Alex surprises her with a public declaration, while also giving her the public recognition she craves. It’s very Singing in the Rain in that way.
I didn’t hate the film; it just did nothing interesting or original at all. Even that doesn’t usually bother me too much, as long as I can still get sucked into the story line. But I didn’t this time, probably because it just felt like the writers were trying too hard to be cutesy. Nearly every character seemed contrived in some way, the scenarios too perfect (or in some cases too perfectly awful)… just didn’t do it for me.
Meal Pairing: Since “Cora’s” on an Indian kick, we recommend Chicken Tikka Masala and Naan Bread. And probably some alcohol to address the boredom.