February 19, 2007

Music and Lyrics

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From its advertisements, Music and Lyrics seems like a straightforward, simple romantic comedy. Sadly, though not surprisingly, it is neither of these things, but it is rather unhappily convoluted and unfunny. As for romantic, that’s a matter of taste and personal judgment.

To summarize: Boy (Hugh Grant) meets Girl (Drew Barrymore). Girl pens lyrics for a hit song Boy desperately needs, thus salvaging the remains of his musical career. Girl then lectures Boy about artistic integrity, which he lacks. Boy loses Girl for reasons that are unclear. Some other silly things happen. Through a grand romantic gesture, Boy gets Girl back. Some bon mots are exchanged in the process, but they are few and far between. The film is contrived, trifling and suffers from a paucity of any real humor. It will appeal only to those who are excited by the prospect of Hugh Grant repeatedly shaking his ass. If you are not a member of this group, then this movie isn’t for you.

While the film is no more convoluted or facile than many other romantic comedies, its slightness is exacerbated when considering the potential it had to be a much funnier film. While they will never be accused of having great dramatic heft, both Grant and Barrymore are fine actors when they stick to doing what they know best. As a rule, these two ought to remain true to type: Drew Barrymore should be adorably scatterbrained while Hugh Grant should, in his inimitable British style, charmingly stammer his way through the picture and into the heart of his love interest.

On this score, the movie seems to get off to a fine start. Drew Barrymore appears as Sophie Fischer, a quirky hypochondriac and spastic plant-waterer. Limbs flailing, she endears herself from her first entrance. Grant acquits himself with aplomb and good humor, playing Alex Fletcher, as a washed-up member of a popular 80s pop band (the rather literally named “PoP”).

After its first few minutes, the movie loses its energy, largely because it doesn’t allow its leads to stay true to form. Rather than play to their strengths, Music and Lyrics just exposes the weaknesses of its leads. Drew Barrymore is earnest when she ought to be bubbly and Hugh Grant is the one thing he should never be: desperate. Grant is at his best when he gets to wear a suit and stutter wittily. The heart of his persona is effortless charm, and no one can be charming when they’re supposed to be frightened. Hugh Grant shouldn’t be worrying about getting a job; he should be concerned with getting the girl. Everything else is incidental.

As for the supporting cast, it is sidelined and wholly unremarkable. Brad Garrett is largely uninspired as Fletcher’s agent (unless he was supposed to seem tired and boring, in which case he was fantastic). Kristen Johnston is fine as Sophie’s domineering older sister, and she provides the majority of the few laughs in the film. The rest of the cast does nothing to help the film. Haley Bennett gives an almost catatonic performance as Cora Corman, a Britney Spears-type singer, while Jason Antoon is abrasive and humorless as a songwriter-for-hire.

Any redeeming qualities found in the film come from the music, which I was surprised to find were actually good. I was less surprised after discovering the provenance of these music and lyrics in question: Most of the songs “written” in the film are credited to Adam Schlesinger, half of pop duo Fountains of Wayne. If the movie were a little bit better, the music could have been its saving grace. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Music and Lyrics is a lightweight of a movie, but its inconsequential nature is not the problem. The sad fact is that the conceit could have been executed in a more interesting manner, and the cast was talented enough to have carried a much better movie. In the end, Music and Lyrics is just a wasted opportunity. When a movie is premised on such a silly notion, it damn well better be entertaining. And this one just isn’t.