I’d be lying if I said the thought of seeing “Music and Lyrics” – one of roughly 600 romantic comedies slated for release in 2007 – filled me with tingly anticipation. Hugh Grant hasn’t really stretched himself as an actor in a long time, coasting along as either the self-conscious nice guy (“Notting Hill”) or the vaguely sleazy yet still somehow likeable scalawag (“Bridget Jones’ Diary”). Drew Barrymore occupies a similar niche, taking on lightweight roles and cartoon voice work, seemingly content to leave the heavier acting with her ancestors. Finally, writer/director Marc Lawrence’s last movie was “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” which was raked over the coals by better critics than myself.
With a pedigree like that, cleaning out the gutters or sitting through that season 6 marathon of “The Real World” might sound like a more pleasant weekend option to some people. This would be too bad, because “Music and Lyrics” is surprisingly tolerable.
Grant plays Alex Fletcher, former member of the hit ‘80s band Pop!, which is clearly a (barely) more butch version of Wham! with Alex as Andrew Ridgeley. Colin Thompson, the George Michael half of the duo, swiped a bunch of songs they’d co-written and went on to music superstardom, while Alex has since lived off of royalties and the meager revenue from concerts at state fairs and the like. You see, while he’s a gifted tunesmith, it seems Alex needs help in the lyrics department. This presents a conundrum when Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), a Christina Aguilera-Shakira amalgamation who happens to be a huge fan of Alex’s, asks him to write a song for them to sing together on her new album.
Enter Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore). Sophie is subbing for the person who usually waters Alex’s plants and quite accidentally demonstrates a gift for putting words to music. Alex convinces her to help him write the song, but it won’t be easy, because (of course) Sophie has her own confidence issues stemming from her former prof/lover betraying her trust and writing a book about their relationship.
I know, I know…that doesn’t even sound appealing to me, and I wrote it. Still, the pair have an easy (if a bit creepy – he is 15 years her senior, after all – chemistry), and Grant allows some of his inherent lecherousness to come through. There’s also decent supporting work by Brad Garrett (as Alex’s manager) and Kristen Johnson (as Sophie’s sister). The plot is paper-thin, and the set-up is beyond contrived (a plant waterer?), but there are a surprising number of laughs, and the saccharine content is kept to a minimum. A mostly enjoyable experience, all told.
How did it happen? Maybe the individual shortcomings of Grant, Barrymore, and Lawrence combine to generate some element of non-suckiness previously undiscovered by human science. Maybe I have a soft spot for jokes at the expense of the decade in which I grew up. Who knows? What I do know is that “Music and Lyrics” may not be the best movie of the year, or even the best of its genre, but it’s far from the worst, and you could definitely see crappier movies on Valentine’s Day.