Music and Lyrics (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

One would be justified in approaching Music and Lyrics with a certain amount of skepticism, considering that its writer/director, Marc Lawrence, is perhaps known for foisting two Miss Congenialitys upon the world (although to be fair, he didn't direct either - he just wrote and produced them). Yet, despite the feeble pedigree, Music and Lyrics turns out to be a better than average romantic comedy where the characters click and, unusual for movies of the genre, there are instances when genuine laughter bubbles up. This may be due largely to Hugh Grant, who understands the concept of comic timing and is able to deliver one liner after one liner in precisely the manner necessary to make them funny. Of course, for those who don't like Hugh Grant…

Best of all, Music and Lyrics doesn't overdue it. There is a tendency in romantic comedies to make everything bigger than it needs to be. So we get overamped comedy sequences and a romantic finale so extreme that it pulls us out of the story. Here, both pitfalls are largely avoided. There's only one sequence (it takes place in a restaurant) when the comedy slips into the cartoon realm. And the ending, while undeniably romantic, shows enough restraint to be satisfying without going over the top. This significance of this should not be underestimated. Plus, when the inevitable romantic complications arrive, they have nothing to do with another man and/or woman and everything to do with morality and ethics.

Back in the 1980s, Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) was the Andrew Ridgeley of a pop group whose target demographic was teenage girls. 20 years later, Alex is a washed up has-been, generating a modest income from appearing at state fairs and amusement parks. His former teen fans are now middle-aged women with kids of their own. Then his agent, Chris Riley (Brad Garrett) strikes gold. Britney Spears clone Cora Corman (Haley Bennett) wants to give Alex a comeback opportunity with a duet on her new album - if he can write a song in less than a week. This is a challenge for two reasons: Alex hasn't written anything new in more than a decade and there's no reliable lyricist he can bring on board that quickly. Luck steps in when it turns out that the woman who waters his plants, Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), has a talent for rhyming and poetry. She is reluctant to work with Alex at first, but he is persistent and they eventually get down to the business of making beautiful music together.

Music and Lyrics isn't perfect - it's filled with contrivances and, while its opening scene of an early '80s pop music video is on-target, some of its other jabs at the industry lack teeth. Yet, as a date movie (it is being released theatrically on Valentine's Day), it's more than passable. Hugh Grant, who has been playing the scoundrel a lot of late, steps back into the part of the stammering, self-deprecating romantic lead. Drew Barrymore, while not the greatest actress (there are times when she is visibly holding back a laugh at some remark or another of Grant's), exudes sweetness, which is precisely what the movie needs from her. The supporting cast includes Brad Garrett and Campbell Scott (as a two-faced author). Haley Bennett is stunningly sexy in her feature debut as Cora.

Musically, the film serves up a lot of uninspired tunes. Considering the genres of music being explored, one could reasonably expect this but it's a little unfortunate that the defining romantic songs are run-of-the-mill. Still, they serve their purpose, which is to get Grant and Barrymore in a happily ever after position. When it comes to romance and chemistry, these two fall on the "cute" end of the scale. They mesh well but there's not a lot of heat. Their sex scene is obligatory and not likely to warm any embers. It's necessary to the plot only to emphasize the level of attraction.

Like many formula romantic comedies, Music and Lyrics delivers what's expected of it, but it avoids some of the most common pitfalls. This makes suspension of disbelief easier. The characters feel credible as do many of their circumstances. This film's "reality" is closer to ours than the one presented by many similar movies. Music and Lyrics is frequently appealing, often witty, and occasionally funny, but it's not going to convert skeptics and cynics into sentimentalists. The movie fails to achieve a position in the top echelon of romantic comedies, but it resides high enough in the pecking order to be worth a look by anyone with a penchant for the genre.

Music and Lyrics (United States, 2007)

Director: Marc Lawrence
Cast: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Haley Bennett, Campbell Scott
Screenplay: Marc Lawrence
Cinematography: Xavier Pérez Grobet
Music: Adam Schlesinger
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 2007-02-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1