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The best parts of Music and Lyrics are Hugh Grant's witty one-liners about life as a formerly famous 80's pop star. As Drew Barrymore pitches him set-up lines he knocks them out of the park one after the other. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn't quite match up to Grant's comic performance. We've seen this all before and by the time the final kiss rolls around, we're already moving our minds onto something else.
Early on in Music and Lyrics, substitute plant waterer Sophia Fisher (Drew Barrymore) tells washed-up 80’s heartthrob Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) that she doesn’t know anything about writing song lyrics. Less than five screen minutes later, she’s lecturing him on the differences between melody and words and the role of each in a song. That’s a continual theme in this romantic comedy, characters and situations that don’t have an ounce of reality but simply act as though they realize they are in a movie and need to do and say the things that will help the plot along. When this is done well, the audience will pretend they haven’t seen it all before and just float along with one contrived scene after another. But everyone has a breaking point, and without a scrap of originality it’s hard to pump this fluffy piece into something more than a sitcomish diversion.
Grant is a bright spot as a former member of PoP!, a Wham!-like group that ruled the eye-liner saturated airways in 1984. In keeping with the Wham! comparisons, he’s the Andrew Ridgeley, the one who didn’t go onto fame and fortune as a solo act and is currently appearing at state fairs and the odd local Holiday Inn. Given a chance to write a song for reigning pop princess/airhead spiritualist Cora Corman (Haley Bennett,) melody man Alex has three days (hello romantic comedy contrivance!) to put something down on paper. Enter Sophia, a flighty free-spirit with a knack for putting words together and the two agree to try to knock something out in Fletcher’s New York apartment. Let the song-writing montages commence!
You know the drill by now. The two banter (with Barrymore playing the straight-man to Grant’s often dry one-liners) and in addition to putting together a song, an attraction develops. But this is romantic comedy land, so there needs to be a crisis in the form of artistic compromise versus being true to yourself and then a grand finale. Some wild coincidences occur, including Sophia seeing her long ago boyfriend (Campbell Scott), a successful writer on the very night she and Alex get big news. It's as though the creative forces said “ahhhh, I don’t want to have to build another set, let’s just kill two birds with one stone.” There are comedic second bananas in the person of Alex’s manager (Brad Garrett) and Barrymore’s sister (Kristen Johnston) who act like second bananas always act in these types of movies.
Writer/director Marc Lawrence can certainly write funny jokes. He just doesn’t seem to be able to put them into a script that is even close to original. In fact, Lawrence basically made the same movie five years ago with Grant and called it Two Weeks Notice. He’s saved primarily by Grant who, while not playing a realistically written character, is himself believable as an over-the-hill idol trying to do the only thing he really knows: sing and dance for the entertainment of screaming women. Good one-liners about what happens to the Tiffanys, Debbie Gibsons, and REO Speedwagons of your youth abound. Grant is fun to watch and despite the paper-thin plot, the whole thing is inoffensive fun. It also features some solid bubble-gum pop music that keeps the toes tapping.
This is the sort of movie that screams to be rented on a night when the other big new releases have already been picked over. Keep your expectations low and try to enjoy Grant’s performance and the fun music. Also, make sure you hang around for a “pop-up video” summary of what happened to the main characters. It’s a testament to the belief that the people who made this movie do have some creativity, they just chose not to use a whole lot of it.
The frothy barely-there aspects of the movie coincide well with the frothy barely-there aspects of the extras. Nobody provides a commentary, which should be a requirement for any major studio release. Grant would have been wonderful in that role, as he’s clearly a fun, engaging guy, but we don’t get his insight on singing and dancing in super-tight pants.
There is a twelve minute making-of documentary. It’s pretty straightforward and gives the generic overview that is typical of these marketing tools designed to be shown on pay cable channels between showings of “The Sopranos.” All of the creative people say one or two things and a few of the funnier scenes are shown. There is also a gag reel with some blown lines and amusing cases of the giggles.
There are a handful of deleted scenes. The presentation is a little odd in that there is a card with the scene title and then the scene is shown with no explanation as to context or why it was cut. There were a couple of scenes that explained some things in the movie that weren’t totally clear, like the relationship Brad Garrett has with his daughter. Since the plot isn’t the main force in the movie, there absence isn’t that big a deal, but it did provide some “oh, that’s why they did that” moments. Also, there is are one two funny one-liners that were cut and watching them is worth the odd chuckle.
The final extra is a music video for the fake 80’s band PoP! that Grant’s character belonged to. They perform a song called “Pop! Goes My Heart” with a perfect Duran Druan meets Flock of Seagulls look. The inclusion of the video as an extra is a bit redundant because the entire thing plays over the opening credits and then plays again (in not to be missed pop-up form) over the closing credits. So you can see the same video, in its entirety, three times in the course of the DVD. It’s a funny little item, but not worth that many viewings.
This slight disc has enjoyable rental written all over it. Don’t bother buying it but catching it on Netflix or from the library will give you a light, pleasant evening with a few laughs and you can easily get through all the extras in the same night.
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