Wednesday, May 16, 2007

'Music and Lyrics' is an amusing diversion

“Music and Lyrics” is the sort of lightweight, fluff you expect from a movie starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. For romantic comedy fans this will go down easy, but it lacks the crossover appeal of some of Grant’s other films, most notably, “About a Boy.”

The premise – or the excuse to have two seemingly opposite personalities fall in love – centers on a former 80s pop icon, Alex Fletcher (Grant) getting a lucky break when he is commissioned to write a song in less than a week for teen pop star Cora Corman (newcomer Haley Bennett). The only problem is he needs a lyrist; enter Sophie (Barrymore) his quirky plant waterer with a way with rhyming.

Grant has grown well into his romantic persona. Gone is the awkward, nebbish, man-boy, replaced with a more confident model. Few living actors can toss a barbed one-liner or a charming phrase with equal aplomb. Grant makes it look easy.

Barrymore’s sunny, slightly offbeat personality plays well off of Grant. They have a pleasant chemistry and banter well with each other. The film is at its strongest when it focuses on the creative process between Grant and Barrymore which yields some real laughs. There is a sense of a rapport and attraction developing as the songwriting progresses. Their professional relationship segues nicely into a romantic one.

But the film plays its cards too early and the song is finished with 45 minutes left in the film. The film goes into autopilot and let’s formula set in with a fight breaking our lovers apart only to have them reunite in the end.

Audiences expect this inevitable development from this sort of film, but the dispute feels like a mere a plot device rather than a natural progression of the story and as a result the final stretch of the film sags badly. The film regains the viewer’s goodwill with a strong finish at the big concert presentation of the song.

The song, “A Way Back into Love,” is a catchy, lyrically strong ballad and Grant, who does all of his own singing, has a surprisingly good voice. All this is important to the success of the film. If you’re making a movie set in the music world the music better hold up to repeat listenings. One of the factors that killed the music industry satire, “Be Cool” was all of the supposedly amazing music being produced in the film was rubbish.

That isn’t a problem here. All the music, with the exception of the intentionally bad Cora Corman material, is solid pop music. The film opens with a hilarious and spot-on parody of 80s music videos with “Pop Goes My Heart.” From the hair, to the dress to the music to the dancing, it is all so accurate it could have genuinely been from that era. The song itself is the sort of cheesy fun you expect from a 80s song.

Current pop is skewered with “Welcome to Bootytown.” The song is an all too accurate reflection of today’s pop. Bennett as Cora Corman nails the ditsy pop star persona. In a possible jab at Madonna, Cora has discovered Eastern mysticism, which guides her life and gives her sitar beats to gyrate her body to.

Music and Lyrics,” which also features solid supporting performances from Brad Garrett (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) as Grant’s manager and Kristen Johnston (“3rd Rock from the Sun”) as Barrymore’s sister, is a better than average romantic comedy that will satisfy its core audience.

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