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Movie Review: Music and Lyrics

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Romantic comedies hatch from Hollywood like chicken eggs. Head to your local supermarket, and the titles are a dime a dozen. And, just like eggs, real variety is rare, with so many recycled jokes and love conflicts. Sometimes, though, a rom-com appears with just a bit of extra cheekiness that makes it memorable.

This is true of 2007’s Music and Lyrics, directed by Marc Lawrence and starring lovable veterans Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.  Music and Lyrics doesn’t just poke gentle fun at today’s music industry; it also basks in its own predictability. While there’s little lasting significance to the movie, witty writing keeps it from becoming mundane, as do Grant and Barrymore’s fresh performances. This movie is a good egg indeed.

At first glance, the plot to Music and Lyrics comes across as terribly saccharine. Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a graying rock idol from the ’80s, lives a comfortable life in New York City giving nostalgic performances for soccer-mom fan girls. He’s fully accepted his has-been status, as has his dryly apathetic agent, Chris (Brad Garrett).

Both are intrigued when teen pop sensation Cora (Haley Bennett), who seems to be a precursor to Lady GaGa, demands that he write a hit song for her. Problem is, Alex has never been much of a lyricist. Enter Drew Barrymore as plant caretaker Sophie Fisher, who sparkles with awkward charm as she not only helps him write the elusive song but also helps him see that there’s more to life than the past.

The saving grace of Music and Lyrics is its dialogue. Barrymore and Grant ricochet sincere, deadpan phrases off each other to hilarious effect, but their delivery feels completely spontaneous. Barrymore’s nervous hands and constant lip biting make Sophie into a lovable, though slightly immature artist, while Grant’s worried charm makes him the perfect foil.

They both carry the burden of being celebrities, though for vastly different reasons, which makes for a nice plot conflict later in the movie. Another strength to Music and Lyrics is the droll irony with which it treats the commercialized music industry.

Cora’s bizarre, flat personality (personified by her quip, “I want to show you the roof. It’s upstairs!”) seems particularly apropos with the success of Lady GaGa, and the simple, acoustic ballad she receives is a refreshing contrast to the otherwise synth-heavy beats, not to mention the cheesy ‘80s songs that Alex performs.

Unfortunately, the movie is still subject to the many pitfalls of romantic comedies. The setup for Alex and Sophie’s meeting is so contrived that you might want to write their characters off before you even get to know them. Throughout the script, it’s obvious when the writers are trying to advance the action, and a side story detailing Sophie’s confrontation with a former professor just feels extraneous.

And, though you can suspend enough disbelief to accept that Sophie really doesn’t have any important work or friendship commitments, other elements are even more poorly formulated. Fletcher and Fisher are their last names? Really? Sophie’s romance with Alex also feels continually rushed and busy, much like the monochrome New York traffic that surrounds her. The lighting palette for this film, all grays and tans, detracts from any visual interest that camera angles might have created.

At one point in Music and Lyrics, a character shouts out, “Feelings? Nothing more than feelings?” Yes, that’s what this movie is all about: syrupy, earnest feelings that are just as infectious as a good tune.

Fans of Grant and Barrymore will not be disappointed by their breathless performances, and even the rom-com averse may appreciate the genial, nostalgic mood.  Music and Lyrics is time well spent. Amidst a wasteland of bland romantic comedies, this one will make you crack more than a few smiles.

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About Laurel Savannah