Director: Marc Lawrence
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Hugh Grant
I’ve come to the conclusion that modern romantic comedies are only as good as their supporting characters. Films in the genre are, of course, sold on the strength of their leads – in this case Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore – but it’s rare to have leading characters who haven’t walked straight off the assembly line and into manufactured situations well-worn by other films. This is where the supporting characters become important because they can put a small stamp of originality on a film that elevates it from bland to decent. Case in point: Kristen Johnston in Music and Lyrics, who every time she was on-screen inspired me to say to myself, “My god, she is delightful.”
The film begins brilliantly, with a music video by 80s pop group PoP, modeled after Wham! Beware that this song – “Pop Goes My Heart” – will be stuck in your head forever. I saw this movie about a month ago and I still find myself humming it while I’m making dinner. Flash forward 20 or so years when one half of the duo, Colin Thompson (Scott Porter), is a successful solo artist, while the other half, Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant), is just barely keeping his head above obscurity. Alex’s prospects are limited to appearing on a celebrity boxing show and playing at fairgrounds and high school reunions until an opportunity arises for him to write a song for flavor of the month Cora Corman (Haley Bennett). If she were to use his song, it could revitalize his career, but there’s a problem: while he can compose music, he’s never been much good at writing lyrics.
Alex meets Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore) when she’s hired to water his plants. This feels somewhat contrived because, honestly, who hires someone to water their plants while they’re home? In a different movie you might believe this, but Alex is such a down-to-earth character that it doesn’t really jive here. Anyway, as Sophie is watering the plants and singing to herself, Alex discovers that she has a knack for stringing words together. After much back and forth, he convinces her to work with him on the song for Cora, much to the delight of Sophie’s sister, Rhonda (Kristen Johnston), who was and remains an enormous fan of PoP. I really can’t even begin to describe how funny Johnston is in this role as a serious businesswoman and married mother of two who devolves into a squealing teenage girl whenever she’s around Alex.
As the leads, Grant and Barrymore are suitably charming and have decent enough chemistry, though the characters are somewhat flat. I much prefer Grant as snaky About A Boy style characters rather than neutered nice guys a la Four Weddings and a Funeral - I think he does better with characters that are allowed to have edges. Barrymore tends to be a little hit and miss for me and in this role in particular I found her to be a little lacking in spark, which may be because the film requires little more of her than to be nice.
The real star of the film, I think, is Adam Schlesinger who provides the original music. The songs he’s written for the film are catchy and evocative of the 80s (except the ones that aren’t supposed to be evocative of the 80s) and are probably the most memorable thing about the movie. Ultimately, while this is a fine enough way to spend an hour and a half (give or take), it’s difficult to really work up any feeling about it one way or another because there’s not really any conflict in the story. It’s a movie about nice people being nice and sometimes clever – there’s not much more to it.