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Music and Lyrics   B-

Warner Bros. Pictures / Village Roadshow Pictures

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Marc Lawrence
Writer: Marc Lawrence
Cast: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnston, Campbell Scott, Haley Bennett.

Review by Rob Vaux

I'll acknowledge right off the bat that Music and Lyrics is a factory-produced Valentine's Day trifle with nothing new or innovative on its agenda. Genre staples like this can be cranked out faster than you can say, "No, really, I like being single," and the rhythmic tropes of Meet Cute/Fall Unexpectedly in Love/Endure Some Kind of Imbecilic Threat to Eternal Happiness Before the Big Reunion at the End run deep into its bones. It lacks any kind of daring to meddle with the formula, and its signature hook of romance between struggling songwriters is barely enough to differentiate it from every other Hugh Grant or Drew Barrymore picture of the last decade.

Having said that, the scheme more or less works here -- even better than average at points. The dialogue has wit and charm, the scenario is reliably amusing, and these two stars can play this material like Parker on the sax: Grant, the aging man-child with the devastating one-liners curdling under a hint of sleaze; Barrymore, the well-meaning ditz whose clumsy pratfalls hide a wealth of untapped joie de vivre. Old tricks, to be sure, but who on earth can possibly perform them better?

Grant plays Alex Fletcher, former heartthrob of an '80s band called Pop! whose partner went on to solo superstardom while he was left behind to leech off fading nostalgia. (The sight of Grant in a spot-on opening video -- sporting zipper pants and Duran Duran hair -- is almost worth the price of admission alone.) Now his performance docket consists solely of class reunions filled with thirtysomething housewives and the odd county fair or two. But then salvation arrives when 2007's reigning queen of the charts (Haley Bennett) asks him to write a song for her. If she likes it, it could put him back on the fast track -- maybe even a gig at Disneyland! There's just one problem: he's never been that good at writing lyrics. That was always the other fellow's job, and while melody won't be a problem, connecting it to the right words is more than he can muster. Enter Sophie Fisher (Barrymore), right on cue. Her adorably goofy free spirit initially just wants to water his plants -- having finally secured a spot in the highly competitive plant-watering industry -- but soon displays a knack for rhyme and meter that fits in perfectly with Fletcher's music. Suddenly, a common goal arises, professional chemistry morphs into personal attraction, and Warner Bros. has a too-cute reference on which they can hang the film's title.

Writer-director Marc Lawrence handles things very gently, allowing the plot to develop with just enough urgency to push our burgeoning couple together. Beyond that, he sits back and lets his actors do the work. Grant oozes his usual charm beneath a character who's quite at peace with selling out, while Barrymore leverages Fisher's insecurities (caused by the standard-issue cad of an ex-boyfriend who pissed all over her creative potential) without appearing clingy or whining. Music and Lyrics gets some additional mileage out of poking fun at popular music, though that issue is stickier that it first appears. Artistic integrity plays a large part in the proceedings -- will our heroes trade their souls for a little fleeting fame and fortune? -- and yet their work is never supposed to be more than chart-topping feel-good fluff. The film delights in mocking pop music's idiocy -- most successfully in Fisher's long-gone stardom and Bennett's (deliberately?) vacuous teen diva -- and yet at certain key points, we're supposed to accept that the dross they're working on has real creative integrity. Lawrence admittedly makes a decent argument (mostly by showing us how even the frothiest song can be bastardized), but it isn't always as convincing as it should be.

Beyond that, we're strictly in upper-tier by-the-numbers territory, as the bounce in the film's step renders its otherwise timid approach agreeable. Lawrence's script has some winning quips and a decent number of soft chuckles at regular intervals. The central couple throws off enough sparks to make us believe in them, and the contrived obstacles in their way carry just enough self-mockery to let us eel around their hoariness. Those interested in undemanding romance will have little to complain about, and those dragged unwillingly by spouses or SOs should survive the experience without ever wanting to chew their own arm off. Modest goals, perhaps, but Music and Lyrics hits them without ever pretending to aim higher. There are worse ways to spend February 14th, and worse couples to spend it with; if you're looking for anything more, then you've definitely come to the wrong film.

Review published 02.13.2007.

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