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Music and Lyrics

A Passably Entertaining Duet

If you’re secretly or not so secretly feeling nostalgic for early 80s pop music in all its campy glory, then Music and Lyrics, written and direct by Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks Notice, Miss Congeniality) should be on your “must-see” list on Valentine’s Day and the heady, romantic-tinged days that follow.

Remember Wham!, the chart-topping pop band fronted by George Michael? Remember Michael’s writing and singing partner, Andrew Ridgeley? Probably not. Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant), the central character in Music and Lyrics, is modeled after Ridgeley. Like Ridgeley before him, Fletcher fades into semi-comfortable obscurity while the fictitious PoP!'s other half, Colin Thompson (Scott Porter), goes on to a successful career as a solo artist and as an actor.

Twenty years after his success with PoP!, Fletcher performs their old hits at amusement parks, county fairs, or high school reunions for his dwindling, aging fanbase. On the brighter side, Fletcher is seriously mulling over an offer to take part in a new reality television show, "Battle of the 80s Has-Beens". His business manger, Chris Riley (Brad Garrett), hits on a potentially lucrative deal when Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), a massively popular pop star bigger than Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and Christina Aguilera combined, offers Fletcher the chance to write her next song. Fletcher has to overcome two immediate hurdles: the song already has a title, “Way Back to Love”, and he has less than 48-hours to write and submit a demo. If Fletcher gets the gig, Cora will duet with him, thus revitalizing his moribund career.

Here’s the rub: Fletcher can write music but he can’t write lyrics. A first try with a supposedly "edgy" songwriter, Greg Antonsky (Jason Antoon), fails miserably, but Fletcher's prospects improve when Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), a woman subbing for his plant lady, drops a rhyme on Fletcher that works with the melody he's composing. Sophie seems to possess raw, natural talent, but she comes with a few quirks. Sophie’s still recovering from a devastating romantic relationship with her ex-college professor, Sloan Cates (Campbell Scott) who wrote a thinly disguised bestselling novel about Sophie.

The performances range from the negligible, e.g., Garrett’s incessant mugging better suited for television comedy, to the passably enjoyable, e.g., Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore doing here what they’ve done countless times before and will do countless times again in the future. Grant’s the shallow, self-interested cad who ultimately finds redemption through romantic love. Barrymore’s the eccentric, insecure, goofball who never crosses the line into unlikable or unlovable. While Grant and Barrymore have chemistry together onscreen, Barrymore’s performance could have benefited from more energy and faster delivery of her lines. It's Haley Bennett as the dim-witted Cora, though who steals every scene she's in. She sings, she dances (or rather writhes), but also shows off the comic timing of a pro.

Music and Lyrics never strays from the conventions of the romantic comedy genre. Some of the humor works (e.g., spoof of 80s-era music videos), some jokes and gags don’t (anything involving Brad Garrett), but that’s to be expected from a lightweight romantic comedy. Look a little deeper and you’ll find the usual conflict between artistic integrity and commerce, between romantic love and self-interest. Which side wins is obvious the first time the descriptive phrase “romantic comedy” gets tossed around.

That might sound like a negative, but it’s not. What’s wrong with extolling the unobjectionable virtues of romantic love and artistic integrity in a mainstream film featuring two attractive leads doing what they do best? Everyone comes out ahead, especially the movie studios.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars