Movie Review – Music and Lyrics (2007)
by RISHI AGRAWAL
I would think that it would be very difficult to make a great romantic comedy. The genre leads to a certain inevitability as no one wants to have their emotions invested with characters just to see them unhappy at the end of the film. Of course, there are ways to introduce unpredictability into the format. For example, characters could find love in the arms of another after being spurned by their first choice. Even that formula has become stale. In fact, one could argue that it is impossible to make a great romantic comedy while staying true to the genre. Music and Lyrics, directed by Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks Notice) does have all the trappings of other romantic comedies and does follow the formula with very little variation, but it does have a few factors that make it rise above most other films in this genre.
Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is a 1980s has-been from the group Pop!, whose lead singer has gone on to become a big star, leaving Fletcher to play state fairs and amusement parks. He finds that Cora Corman (newcomer Haley Bennett) is a huge fan of his music and wants him to write a new song for her. Unfortunately, Alex cannot write lyrics, but finds that Sophie (Drew Barrymore), the woman who waters his plants, has a natural talent for songwriting and he hires her to co-write a song with him.
The main thing that really makes this movie work is that Barrymore and Grant are really great together. Both of them are veterans of this genre and you can tell that they either have genuine chemistry or are really good at faking it. Their banter does not feel forced, and is generally witty. The dialogue doesn’t seem completely natural at all times, but when it’s actually funny, then that’s not really a problem.
The jokes surrounding Alex’s status as a has-been are also very funny. The film opens with a brilliant 80s style music video from the band Pop!, complete with horrible hair and outfits, cheesy graphics, and a drummer who can’t dance. We then transition to Alex in the present day being offered to compete in a television show where he would box against the likes of A Flock of Seagulls and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Watching him perform his songs in front of screaming bands of middle-aged women is very, very sad, but one of the crowning achievements of the film.
The supporting cast also deserves mention. Brad Garrett turns in a solid performance as Alex’s agent. And Bennett really captures the teen pop star, combining precocious sexuality with pseudo-spirituality in a way that is both believable and unexpected at the same time. Kristen Johnston plays Sophie’s sister, who was obsessed with Pop! as a teenager. Finally, there is the memorable Jason Antoon, who is only in the film for a few minutes, but provides more than one chuckle as an angst-ridden lyricist.
The music in the film serves its purpose. It is poppy and tolerable enough that I was able to listen to it for the course of the movie. Of course, when it’s all said and done, I never want to hear those songs again. The movie does have some moments where it tries to defend pop music as important. It would be better if the movie just reveled in the cheesiness of the music without having to make a political statement about this. It just rings hollow as a thinly-veiled attempt by Lawrence to defend his filmmaking, which will probably never be seen as having much artistic value.
It is too bad that the movie follows such a predictable path and does not try to break out of the mold a little bit. Though Music and Lyrics is able to follow the formula really well and serve as a stunning example of it, it nevertheless treads very familiar ground.