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MUSIC AND LYRICS – Adam Schlesinger

February 16, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

Another Valentine’s Day, another romantic comedy at the movie theatre. Wonders never cease to exist. I’ve lamented the current languishing state of romantic comedies in general, screenwriters have gotten lazier and lazier with the genre, pushing out inane drivel with no romance, no humor, and no feeling. It takes a movie like “Music and Lyrics” to remind us of why the genre can be such fun.

At the center of attention in “Music and Lyrics” is the finest romantic comedy star in movies today, Hugh Grant, who has single-handedly resuscitated countless formulaic films. Here, he plays a washed-up pop singer named Alex Fletcher, one of the two key members in the cheesy 80’s band PoP (we see a hilarious music video of one of the band’s hits over the opening credits). While Alex’s former partner Colin has gone on to solo superstardom, Alex is desperately feeding on the crumbs of his former glories. He spends his weeks playing state fairs, kid’s parks, and various other disappointing engagements. He does have his limits, though. “I refuse to stoop to playing bar mitzvahs,” he declares. “Don’t worry,” his agent (Brad Garrett) tells him, “13 year-old kids have no idea who you are.”

Out of the blue, Alex is given a shot as a big break. One of the hottest stars in pop music, Cora Corman (Haley Bennett… think of a cross between Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, George Harrison and Jennifer Lopez) happens to be a huge fan of Alex Fletcher’s work, and wants him to write her a song for the two of them to perform. Problem is, he needs the song within a matter of days. Not having any talent as a lyricist, Alex hires someone to craft a lyric for him, but the results are disappointingly nihilistic, not at all what Alex was hoping for. Fortunately, he finds help from Sophie (Drew Barrymore), Alex’s “plant lady”.

Sophie has quite a remarkable knack for spinning off feel-good lyrics, and also quite a remarkable knack for being completely adorable. Of course, she and Alex fall in love, and of course they break up briefly near the end before coming back together again. This is the unwritten rule of all romantic comedies, so it comes with the territory. What sets “Music and Lyrics” apart is how well it handles everything. The relationship is not merely a series of forced romantic spewings, Grant and Barrymore have a genuine chemistry together. In addition, the screenplay is remarkably witty, Grant scores a lot of points in the “amusing self-deprecating dialogue” department. Also, when the inevitable break-up occurs, it is not a matter of poor communicating and stupid misunderstandings (which drive me batty in movies like this), but a matter of ethics between two characters with entirely different goals. The film also succeeds at some light satire, gently ribbing the music genre with knowing insight.

Performances here are fantastic. Grant is remarkably good at playing this kind of character, and this is his strongest performance since “About a Boy”. He gets tremendous mileage out of his lines by underplaying them, a lesser comedian (perhaps Adam Sandler?) would squeeze the life and gentle wit out of them. Meanwhile, Barrymore has established herself as the Meg Ryan of this decade, a fact that I’m perfectly comfortable with. Somehow, she’s managed to elevate every recent romantic comedy she’s been in, making it better than it had a right to be (“Fever Pitch” and “50 First Dates” come to mind). Brad Garrett and Haley Bennett are funny in their supporting roles. There’s also a small role for the wonderful Campbell Scott, playing an ex-lover of Barrymore who has snatched her life and turned her into the villain of a best-selling novel.

As the title of the film would imply, there’s a lot of attention paid to the music of the film, but there’s no proper underscore to speak of. At the center of attention here are a number of songs written by Adam Schlesinger, the bassist for two bands, Ivy and Fountains of Wayne, and who previously penned the superb 1950s pastiche “That Thing You Do!” for the Tom Hanks-directed film of the same name. His attempts at coming up with songs that would have been big hits in the 1980’s are quite successful, simultaneously mocking and paying homage to the cheesy synthetic pop of the era. The opening number, “PoP! Goes My Heart” is particularly fun, and the solo piano ballad “Don’t Write Me Off” is really quite touching. By the way, Hugh Grant can carry a tune quite admirably! The film’s central song “Way Back Into Love” is a real charmer, too, and gets two full performances in the movie. The first comes from Grant and Barrymore doing a demo recording of the song, and of course the second comes when Grant sings it with Haley Bennett onstage. Speaking of Bennett, she also gets to perform several truly abominable songs in the movie, though they are intentionally so. Blending trashy pop sounds with influence of Ravi Shankar, she creates such horrible “spiritual pop” numbers as “Slam”, “Buddha’s Delight”, and “Entering Bootytown”. They work very well as satire, but stay near the “skip” button if you buy the soundtrack album.

I’m pleased to be able to thoroughly recommend “Music and Lyrics” as a fantastic date movie. It’s funny, it’s romantic, it’s got some particularly enjoyable musical numbers, it never gets bogged down in dumb plotting, and it’s got Hugh Grant in very tight plastic pants. Could you ask for anything more from a romantic comedy?

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Pop! Goes My Heart (performed by Hugh Grant)
  • Buddha’s Delight (performed by Haley Bennett)
  • Meaningless Kiss (performed by Hugh Grant)
  • Entering Bootytown (performed by Haley Bennett)
  • Way Back into Love [Demo Version] (performed by Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant)
  • Tony the Beat (performed by The Sounds)
  • Dance with Me Tonight (performed by Hugh Grant)
  • Slam (performed by Haley Bennett)
  • Don’t Write Me Off (performed by Hugh Grant)
  • Way Back into Love (performed by Haley Bennett and Hugh Grant)
  • Different Sound (performed by Malte and the Teddybears)
  • Love Autopsy (performed by Hugh Grant)

Running Time: ## minutes ## seconds

Warner Sunset/Atlantic 101537-2 (2007)

Music composed by Adam Schlesinger. Produced by Robert Schaper and Adam Schlesinger.

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