Monday, February 26, 2007

Music and Lyrics

MUSIC AND LYRICS (Marc Lawrence, 2007)

In MUSIC AND LYRICS 80s pop star Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) gets a chance at a comeback when he's asked to pen a song for teen sensation Cora Corman (Haley Bennett). She wants to debut the new tune with him at a Madison Square Garden concert. It sounds like just the break Alex needs to abandon high school reunion and amusement park performances that have kept him afloat all these years. The catch is that Cora has solicited songs from several other composers, and the song must be finished in 48 hours.

Former co-lead singer of the disbanded group PoP!, Alex was always more at home writing the music. His agent Chris (Brad Garrett) connects him with a lyricist (Jason Antoon), but the collaborators can't get on the same page. Enter Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), the clumsy substitute plant caretaker in Alex's apartment who effortlessly rattles off some lines that Alex thinks are perfect for a pop song. Desperate for the right lyrics, Alex compels Sophie to assist him. As they stay up all night sweating over every note and word, an attraction begins to form.

One of my primary complaints about the majority of today's movies is the lack of emotional truth. Be it a comic book movie or romantic comedy, moviegoers are often looking for heightened versions of reality but reality nonetheless. The actions are bolder and emotions more intense, but in the end we're seeking recognizable human behavior and feelings displayed on a larger canvas. Yet so many films fail to make their characters relatable.

Oddly enough, romantic comedies, potentially the easiest genre for depicting familiar people and scenarios, regularly get mucked up with plot contrivances that make them alien to viewer experiences. Perhaps that's why MUSIC AND LYRICS is so refreshing. Marc Lawrence's romantic comedy succeeds because it develops lovable, realistic characters. The film finds the budding couple sharing the majority of the scenes. How novel to make a romance in which the leads spend time together rather than being forced apart for arbitrary reasons. Better yet is the fact that they actually talk about the problems that creep into their relationship rather than let some absurd misunderstanding ruin what they might have.

It helps that Grant and Barrymore are charming performers with wonderful screen chemistry. Separately they've appeared in two of the best romantic comedies in recent years--adaptations of Nick Hornby's ABOUT A BOY and FEVER PITCH. There's a strong hint of Hornby's pop sensibility and romanticism here too. Together the actors shine, with Grant's foppishness counterbalanced nicely by Barrymore's easygoing goofiness. (This is a role Brittany Murphy would kill for.) She has an inspired bit of physical comedy when trying to avoid being spotted by a former lover in a restaurant.

Although not officially a musical, the songs in MUSIC AND LYRICS are a big part of the film's appeal. Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger wrote several excellent 80s pop imitations for Grant's character, many of which are performed in their entirety. The songs are credible radio fluff that withstand the scrutiny of being front and center and stick in the ear long after being heard.

Per the film's title, dialogue also plays a crucial component. It's always a pleasure to hear two intelligent characters zinging witticisms back and forth. Credit Lawrence for having the confidence not to oversell the verbal humor. Grant and Barrymore put the jokes out there without drawing attention to them. Grant in particular delivers several offhanded gems that might slip by unnoticed, although my favorite is Sophie's observation that Cora's Indian-flavored remix of their song sounds like "an orgasm set to the GANDHI soundtrack".

Like a catchy pop song you can't stop humming, the sublime romantic melody of MUSIC AND LYRICS puts a smile on your face and love in your heart. Whether it's four minutes of verse chorus verse or ninety minutes of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, what more could you ask for?

Grade: A

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