I've never been a fan of pretty boys. You know, those guys who skate by based solely on their looks. I really don't like pretty boy actors. While women seem to flock in droves to their films, I stay far away. That is, until the pretty boy moves past that phase of his career and learns to have fun with his image -- that's when I get on board. This happened with Brad Pitt in films like Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Ocean's Eleven (where he was a total goofball). The same could be said for Hugh Grant. I had no time for him in the early 90s, but as of late, his frazzled comedic roles have won me over. His latest effort is a romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore entitled Music and Lyrics.
In Music and Lyrics, Grant stars as Alex Fletcher, who was part of a band called PoP!, which was big in the 80s. However, the band broke-up and Alex's partner become a huge star. Alex now leads a semi-quiet life in New York City, playing class reunions, state fairs, and amusement parks, in gigs arranged by his manager, Chris (Brad Garrett). One day, Chris informs Alex that pop-sensation Cora Corman (Haley Bennett) is a fan of PoP! and that she wants Alex to write a new song for her. Alex meets Cora and is flattered by the offer, but he's shocked to learn that he has less than a week to write it. The problem is that Alex can compose music, but he's never been good with lyrics.
While working on the song, he's interrupted by Sophie (Drew Barrymore), a woman who has come to care for Alex's plants. Sophie overhears Alex's song, and, without realizing it, mumbles out some impressive lyrics. Alex is excited by this, and with some coaxing, he's able to convince Sophie to write the some with him. Having some writing experience, but having never penned lyrics, Sophie is nervous about the project. Her problems are compounded by the fact that her older sister Rhonda (Kristen Johnson) is a huge PoP! fan and that she's just gotten out of a stick relationship. Charming to a fault, Alex is able to persuade Sophie that she can do it. But, is there any way that two complete strangers can write a love song in just a few days?
OK, let's face facts -- with Music and Lyrics, writer/director Marc Lawrence (Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice) has created a premise which is both clever and absurd. (Based on some of his other films, Lawrence is a sucker who a man and a woman who don't know each other are thrown together in a stressful situation.) The idea that someone would be asked to compose a song on such short notice probably isn't that far-fetched, but the concept of the composer's plant-lady being a natural-born lyricist is almost too much to swallow. On the other hand, the notion of the has-been pop star being given a second chance may not be original, but given the plethora of VH-1 specials on one-hit wonders, the plot rings true.
Storyline aside, this is Hugh Grant's movie. If you like Grant's brand of humor where he's somehow able to play calm and debonair while being completely confused and frazzled at the same time, then this movie is for you. Echoing his characters from Two Weeks Notice and Love Actually, Alex Fletcher is a man who knows his own strengths, has tasted power, and yet seems to be overwhelmed at all times. Within this persona, Grant is able to deliver witty one-liners with the greatest of ease and is easily the best part of the film, despite the fact that Brad Garrett and Kristen Johnson do get in some funny moments.
The weak link in the film is Drew Barrymore. Despite the fact that she has a ton of experience playing opposite funny men like Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Jimmy Fallon, she seems to be off her game here. It has more to do with the character than with Barrymore herself. Sophie is a broken and depressed woman -- thus, she is no match for the verbal barbs which Alex thrusts upon her. Barrymore does well when she plays a spunky character who goes beyond playing the straight-man and returns the volleys which her male co-stars lob at her. Here, Sophie is more of a wet-blanket who must constantly be wrung-out and reassured by Alex.
Which leads us to the biggest flaw with Music and Lyrics. This romantic-comedy didn't need the romance. The story of a washed-up singer helping a younger woman to come out of her shell offers enough material for the movie. I shouldn't be spoiling anything by revealing that their relationship goes further than that, and for me, it was unnecessary. Forget the fact that Grant is 15 years older than Barrymore in real life, their attraction in the film feels forced and unrealistic. This is truly a shame, because as writing partners, they have true chemistry and the scenes where Alex is both insulting and inspiring Sophie are very funny. But, when the romantic wrinkle is thrown into the mix, the film becomes tedious. Would audiences have not bought the film if the two had simply remained antagonistic friends?
Music and Lyrics works its way up the DVD charts courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I must say that I was extremely disappointed by this transfer. For starters, a noticeable sheen of grain covers the image throughout the film. Secondly, there is a surprising amount of artifacting here as well. These two elements combined create an image where i it appears that the background is constantly moving. On the plus side, the colors look very good, especially the garish tones used in the PoP! music video. Still, one has to wonder why a major release from a studio could look like this.
The audio on the Music and Lyrics DVDs fares better as it contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects aren't overwhelming, but they are acceptable. The music in the movie sounds very good and bass at Cora's concert is worth the price of admission alone. These concert scenes also produce some nice surround sound.
The Music and Lyrics DVD is a bit light in the special features department. The DVD contains 7 DELETED SCENES which run about 11 minutes. Several of these are more moments with Alex's doorman, who is seen briefly in the film. There is a nice moment which I presume would have been the final scene in the film. "Note for Note: The Making of Music and Lyrics" (13 minutes) is very much the standard making-of featurette, and it spends most of its time describing the plot of the film through clips and comments from the cast and writer/director Marc Lawrence. At the end, there is some information concerning the music and dancing in the film. The extras are rounded out by a GAG REEL (4 minutes) and the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Pop Goes My Heart" by PoP!, which really is worth watching on its own.
Like a good song which ends just as its building momentum, Music and Lyrics is a disappointment. Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore both have proven track records, and while they show some chemistry here, placing them together in a romantic-comedy didn't really work. Still, the movie does have some genuinely funny moments and Grant is at the top of his game playing the wise-cracking, yet insecure, know-it-all. Grant's performance aside, the rest of the film feels as if it's on cruise-control. Music and Lyrics is certainly worth a listen, but you'll probably won't be humming it later on.