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Music and Lyrics (A Movie Review)


Starring Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnston, Campbell Scott, Haley Bennett, Jason Antoon, Adam Grupper, Matthew Morrison, Billy Griffith, Aasif Mandvi, Scott Porter, Emma Lesser, Zak Orth and Brooke Tansley.

Screenplay by Marc Lawrence.

Directed by Marc Lawrence.

Distributed by Warner Bros. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Remember Andrew Ridgeley?

He was the other guy in the 80s pop group Wham! who essentially faded into the pop-culture woodworks when his partner, George Michael, decided to go out as a solo act. A forgettable Ridgeley solo album and a brief flirtation with auto racing did little to keep Andrew in the public consciousness.

I probably haven't thought of Andrew Ridgeley in well over a decade, but apparently screenwriter Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks’ Notice) has. Not that Hugh Grant's character of Alex Fletcher here is based on Ridgeley except for in the broadest strokes. I have no doubt, however, that his story was considered when this charming romantic comedy was being created.

Fletcher was "the other guy" in a similarly popular 80s synth-pop band called PoP! He has long since gotten comfortable in his status as a has-been, making just enough money on performances (usually at amusement parks or class reunions) to keep himself fairly well. He retains the residual fame with the 40ish women who come to his shows. However, even these gigs are starting to dry up.

He is just getting desperate enough to consider reality television when he gets an opportunity to get back into the mix. A young pop star named Cora (Haley Bennett) who was a huge PoP! fan when she was little has offered him the opportunity to write a song for her. Problem is she needs it in a few days. Also, he hasn't written anything in a decade. Plus, he doesn't do lyrics.

Therefore, he asks a cute girl who waters his plants (how's that for a job?) and seems to have a way with words if she will help him. She has her own past with writing, so she is resistant, but eventually she agrees. They get to know each other through the hours of work and brainstorming and this unusual couple finds a growing attraction. It's also a nice touch that when the inevitable complication hits the relationship, it is not another person as most less thoughtful movies would do, but it is a question of artistic integrity.

Music and Lyrics is just the latest in a long line of films which show that Hugh Grant is the gold standard when it comes to romantic comedy. Over the years, his persona has made a subtle shift – from the adorable-but-shy Hugh of Four Weddings and A Funeral and Notting Hill to the more charming scoundrel of Bridget Jones Diary, Two Weeks’ Notice (also written by Lawrence) and this film. No one in film can portray charming self-loathing like Grant. His way with a sly aside is breathtaking in its ease and timing. He is a natural.

Barrymore is charming, too, playing her typical role of a slightly frazzled, neurotic-but-sensitive Gen X-er growing up too fast. She is very good, however, up against a force of nature like Grant, she does not quite keep up.

Also impressive is newcomer Haley Bennett – who currently is recording her first album as well as acting here. She invests the teen pop tart with much more depth and nuance than you'd expect. She's a name to watch for.

Nice for a movie about writing music, the songs written for the film (several by Fountains of Wayne guitarist/songwriter Adam Schlesinger) are actually very good pop music on their own. Too often, when films are made about making music, the actual music is not deemed important enough. However the song the two are writing, "Way Back Into Love," really is a charming and lovely song, leading to a truly triumphant scene of the song being performed in concert by Grant (who has a very serviceable singing voice) and Bennett.

Even the old PoP! songs like "Pop! Goes My Heart" are not merely aping the music of the 80s. It does have the sound of the generation down. The song legitimately could have been a smash in 1984. (Between this mock-video and the "Let's Go to the Mall!" pseudo-vid recently done on the TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother, old school MTV is apparently a fertile breeding ground for parody.)

Music and Lyrics is in no way realistic. It really doesn't matter, though. It's a hell of a lot of fun, surprisingly insightful and the best romantic comedy so far of the new year. (2/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: February 14, 2007.


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