Hugh Grant is the go-to guy if you have a lead character who is a bumbling, fop-haired, quintessential Englishman. A career-defining performance as Charles in Four Wedding and a Funeral set Grant on the road to a host of similar castings – although he managed to (just about) step outside this typecast in films such as Extreme Measures and About a Boy. Drew Barrymore has thus far had a more varied career, but has cornered the market when it comes to cutesy, sensitive characters such as Lucy in 50 First Dates and Erin in Going the Distance. Yet here they are together, maximising their talents for playing an amalgamation of their most famous roles in Music and Lyrics.
The film opens with an outrageous 80s pop video (you know, the really awful ones with the odd ‘storyline’) by the imaginatively titled PoP! Alex Fletcher (Grant), who had enjoyed fame in the band – a hybrid of Wham! and Duran, Duran – is now reduced to performing random hits for his army of dwindling, middle-aged fans. Teen star Cora Corman (Haley Bennett) asks Fletcher to write a new song called Way Back Into Love, but without his old songwriting partner and lyricist Colin, he finds it difficult to do the words justice. After a failed attempt to come up with a decent verse or two, Alex realises that Sophie (Barrymore), who comes round to his apartment to (over)water his plants, has a knack for coming up with rhyming, emotive words.
Alex and Sophie set about writing the song, whilst growing ever closer as a result. Cora listens to the demo CD and likes what she hears, but at a later meeting, Sophie discovers to her dismay that Cora has completely re-worked it into a full-on, Indian-inspired R&B noise. Sophie protests to Alex but he, although agreeing it sounds terrible, insists that they let the new ‘interpretation’ stand and not complain in case the song is dropped – the pair then separate. Sophie intends to leave for Florida, but before she does, her sister asks if she would like to attend Cora’s concert, which features the song she wrote with Alex. Will Sophie go or avoid her heart being broken even further by seeing Alex perform their song with Cora?
Music and Lyrics is incredibly bland and poorly acted, but somewhere in there is a heartfelt film wanting to get out, but is stifled by the very awkward, badly thought-out plot. The main problem here can been seen immediately in the premise: a washed-up pop star is commissioned to write a hit song for the most famous star in the world (why him?) but can’t, so he asks some random girl who waters his plants (something you would only need doing if you were either going on holiday or incredibly lazy) and knows a decent rhyme or two, to help him. Right there – the word ‘contrived’ just doesn’t do it justice. It really beggars belief that with all the highly paid scriptwriters in the world, the best that anyone could muster is a damp squib of a storyline such as this.
Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, despite their past acting history, should have given this a very wide berth. There’s no shame in starring in a predictable rom-com, but when the end product is so unsatisfying there’s even a question as to whether its target audience will find this even remotely interesting. All the blame rests solely at the feet of director and writer Marc Lawrence, who may have had dollar signs in his eyes when asked to write the script but came up with a half-arsed attempt – ironically much like his lead character Alex Fletcher.
Music and Lyrics isn’t terrible, but it’s not far off. Fans of Grant and Barrymore will no doubt enjoy drooling over their subjects, but for the rest of us, there’s very little to entertain.