I left
my seat shortly after my viewing of Music
and Lyrics
ended, I realized that I had some emails to get to. Then, I went
and had a bite to eat. Shortly after that, I was headed to another appointment
somewhere when I ended up calling Nick for something else entirely. And it
wasn’t until he asked me how the film was that I realized that I had not devoted
a single thought to it after I left the theater. I could instantly recall for
him that it wasn’t great, but it was hard to recall much detail about the film.

impossible, actually. There is none to be found. I don’t mean plot details,
although they are skimpy too. I’m talking about moments that mattered or
defined the film’s themes or soul, none of which is too much to ask for in a
well-made romantic comedy with two talented leads. But Music and Lyrics is entirely unconcerned with heart or nuance,
somehow coming off as a romance that is not even remotely romantic and a comedy
that is sparse on laughs, almost all of them courtesy of Hugh Grant having fun
with his tweaked persona of a self-deprecating has-been.

The plot
seems easy enough to execute right, and the film actually starts off on a great
note. The opening credits are the (mostly) 80’s-accurate video for Grant’s
former band’s one hit – a song he only wrote the music for as he is unable to
write lyrics. As soon as the video ends, we catch up with Grant in a boardroom
being pitched to co-star in a Surreal
-esque show for Z-listers. He considers it until he realizes that they
want this bunch of losers to simply fight each other…literally. Upon returning
to his Manhattan apartment, he meets a new “plant girl” (Drew Barrymore) who is
filling in for the usual specialist who waters the sparse vegetation he has in
his pad despite the fact that this guy is basically a hermit who only leaves to
play the occasional state fair and would, by no means, need to pay someone to
do this. Fine, ok?

But here,
Grant realizes that Barrymore’s character can write song lyrics too, which he is
desperately in need of due to having been approached to write a song for a
Britney/Christina/Shakira/Fergie/Madonna composite named Cora Corman who is
completely enamored with that one hit of his.

Ok, let’s
stop for a second here. Cora Corman? As a showbiz name for a young, oversexed
pop tart these days? Really? Beyond the name, this storyline screams
preposterous in a way that beats you over the head with how on rails this film
is. We’re expected to believe that a girl that was born long after Grant’s one
hit was on the radio decides to wave off every other proven songwriter in
existence and beckon to just one-half
of the songwriting team of this generic song she loves so much, even though this guy’s a VH-1 Celebreality joke? Sure, whatever.

experience provides the opportunity for Barrymore and Grant to get to know each
other and fall in love. Except they don’t. They remain casual, jovial partners
for the vast remainder of the film’s running time, and then one night they
sleep together for no particular reason, and then go on the next day as if very
little happened. At this point, tho, there’s a barely a half-hour left in the
film, and so writer/director Marc Lawrence slams his foot on the accelerator and tries to deepen their relationship, but without the time to set up the usual bet or lie-based contrivances to force the
leads apart, he has to hinge their biggest threat on a
single, muted argument based on a stray remark from Barrymore’s sister (Kristen
Johnson). This separates them for all of a few minutes, until Barrymore decides
to attends Cora’s concert, where Grant is not only expected to perform the song
he wrote as a duet, but also to perform his own material as a “special guest.” In a twist you never saw coming, Grant serenades
Barrymore, she relents and kisses him, and the film ends at a barely
feature-length running time.

Music and Lyrics is what happens
when you come up with a decent pitch, plot out some romcom beats, but then
forget to actually build a movie around them. The choppy narrative gives no
room for the central relationship to breathe, so Grant and Barrymore appear to
have the chemistry and sizzle of a test pattern. She’s coasting on her goofy
charm, and Grant gives a valiant effort, but they’re characters in different
movies that happened to have met and bumped uglies briefly.

I’d be
tempted to believe that somehow this flick was chopped to pieces in the editing
room before release, but the sole dangling subplot (a weird tangent involving
an ex of Barrymore’s played by Campbell Scott) and the ultimate fates of all of
the major characters is actually resolved…during the end credits as “pop up”
factoids appearing over yet another showing of the opening video. In one fell
swoop, Lawrence not only shits on anybody who had remotely invested themselves in
the film looking to actually see any
of this come to fruition, but he then negates the only really interesting thing
about the film – the opening.

It’s no
surprise, really. If I could sum up the film with a single word, it would be…thoughtless. It never occurred to
Lawrence to even acknowledge the fact that
there’s a 15-year age difference between Grant and Barrymore (and the way Grant
looks here, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was more). It doesn’t occur to
him how played out a Britney-spoofing character (Granted, she wasn’t
spitting out kids and eating Cheetos, so…) and “pop-up” video is at this point.
He doesn’t seem to realize that you have to introduce real tension and drama to
a romantic couple for people to really care about their relationship in the
first place.
Lawrence just seems content to hit his
pre-conceived marks and wrap with the faintest semblance of a romantic comedy. Don’t
let this air-popped confection fool you. There’s no “there” there.

4 out of 10