“Music and Lyrics” signs a delightful tune
One can only surmise from the infrequency of their arrival that memorable romantic comedies are difficult to make. Nevertheless, audiences crave them while critics tend to (unfairly) trash them because the “Rom-com” is by its nature a light, sweet, formulaic confection that satiates a public that sometimes just wants to relax and cry a little– while laughing a lot.
Heaven forbid that an audience just wants to be effortlessly entertained. “Music and Lyrics” does just that. Despite a copout ending that dumbs down the film’s previous wit-filled 90 minutes, there’s plenty to enjoy and few mainstream audiences will be able to resist its charms.
Hugh Grant plays Alex Fletcher, a former 80s pop star reminiscent of Andrew Ridgley, whom you remember as the “other guy” in George Michael’s pop band Wham! In one of the film’s unique touches, Alex is a happy has-been, content to sing his catchy songs and shake his aging hips for middle-aged groupies at amusement parks and school reunions.
When his agent (“Everybody Loves Raymond’s” Brad Garrett) informs Alex of an opportunity to write a song for megastar-of-the-moment and Buddhist-diva Cora (newcomer Haley Bennett), he’s willing but lyrically challenged. (A surprise given Alex’s gift for non-sequiters and witty banter.) Enter plant caretaker Sophie, a jilted hypochondriac whose watering inadequacies are more than made up for by her heretofore undiscovered gift for ballad writing. After some convincing by Alex, the two decide to collaborate, but they need to compose quickly because they are given a one week deadline.
Grant and Barrymore’s strengths are fully utilized here, and both are up for the necessary casual chemistry that’s required. Grant punctuates the frequent punchlines with his trademark eye-batting effervescence. On one occasion, while reminiscing about one of his audience’s candy-throwing reaction, he refers to the scene as a “dietetic Altamont.” (Brush up on your Rolling Stones history if you don’t get it.)
Barrymore has played this kind of ditzy character before, but she rarely has someone as comically adept and charismatic as a sidekick. Her neurotic reactions to being exploited by ex-boyfriend and literature professor’s (Campbell Scott) bestselling novel are familiar territory for her but we still buy into it.
Also making a nice contribution is big-boned comedienne Kristen Johnston (TV’s “3rd Rock from the Sun”) as Sophie’s older sister who gushes hilariously when in the presence of former teen crush Alex.
Best of all, “Music and Lyrics” has plenty of decent original music penned by Fountains of Wayne bandleader Adam Schlesinger (“Stacy’s Mom” was a 2003 hit), who also wrote the title track for “That Thing You Do.” He knows a thing or two about writing good pop. You will find yourself humming “Way Back Into Love” on your way out of the theater.
If only there were a way back to fix the contrived, cheesy ending involving the “big concert love pronouncement.” Up to that point, “Music and Lyrics” is worth a listen (and a look).
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content