Hugh Grant as Alex Fletcher
Drew Barrymore as Sophie Fisher
Brad Garrett as Chris Riley
Haley Bennett as Cora Corman
Kristen Johnston as Rhonda Fisher
Jeremy Karson as Charlie
Emma Lesser as Lucy Fisher
Adam Grupper as Gary Fisher
Jason Antoon as Greg Antonsky
Matthew Morrison as Ray
Aasif Mandvi as Khan
Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) once lived in the rarified heights of music godhood, as a member of the adequately named Pop! (a sort of mish-mash of Duran Duran and Wham!), but the ’80s were a long time ago and he has since settled down to the decent life of a has been pop-star trading on past glory for his daily bread. When the current 15-minute wonder Cora Corman (Haley Bennett) offers him the chance for at least a momentary career overhaul, he naturally leaps at it, except for one problem. He has three days to write a new song and he can’t write lyrics to save his life. If this were a mediocre romantic comedy, that would be the perfect time for an eccentric but brilliant undiscovered writer (Drew Barrymore) to show up at his door filling in for his usual plant waterer. As it just so happens…
Where to begin?
When the only genuinely funny moment of a comedy is the opening credits – consisting entirely of Pop!’s most popular music video “Pop Goes My Heart” – you know you’ve got real problems. For anyone who grew up in the ’80s, the video is a perfect send up of those old horrible ’80s videos (completely different from horrible modern videos) right down to the frilly cuffs and bad pseudo-stories in the middle, though anyone born after 1990 isn’t going to get it. It’s just straight enough that it could almost be the real thing, and just ludicrous enough that you know it’s a joke.
And then it all goes horribly wrong.
“Music and Lyrics” is the latest from Marc Lawrence (“Two Weeks Notice”), the reigning king of bland, boring, pointless romantic comedies, and I only label them as comedies since they are theoretically supposed to be funny. It’s not as bad as some of his other work, but that’s not saying much. God only knows how he keeps getting work, but I suspect a virgin sacrifice was involved somewhere.
What really gets me is how a movie that is ostensibly about these two people coming together to write a great song is supposed to work without a great song. Or a good song. Or even a remotely adequate song. Some suspension of disbelief is naturally needed, but reality needs to at least partially correspond to what’s being presented on screen, and when characters keep gushing over the brilliance of songs just slightly less banal than “Fergilicious” it’s hard to just go with it. Maybe the songs are supposed be bad, maybe it’s really an incredibly subtle critique on pop music disguised as a bad romantic comedy.
But I doubt it.
Hugh Grant is a good enough comedic actor to elevate even Lawrence’s extremely bland material, and watching him prance around like a slightly more masculine Nick Rhodes is far funnier than it sounds. He’s not a great singer (all the actors ostensibly performed their own songs for the film) but he’s not bad, and actually seems to be having a great deal of fun playing an aging pop star.
Barrymore, on the other hand, is about as annoying as she’s ever been, though to be fair that has more to do with her character than her. Sophie is one of those flighty, babbling, supposedly-charming-but-really-just-annoying female leads that bad romantic comedies love, and “Music and Lyrics” is no exception. She has an underwhelming back-story that’s supposed to explain her problems and add depth, but doesn’t, and unlike Grant, Barrymore isn’t good enough to mask the problem.
Newcomer Haley Bennett does respectably as Cora, but as satire goes she’s a bit too broad, bringing in the most overdone aspects of every pop diva since Madonna.
Lawrence has a distinct lack of ability to write anything remotely resembling a real human, and maybe romantic comedies don’t really need that sort of thing, but if there’s nothing else going for it – and there’s nothing else going for it – it would really help. One day maybe he’ll make a good movie, or even better stop making them all together, but today isn’t that day.