' Cinema Romantico: Music and Lyrics: Romantic Comedy Done Right

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Music and Lyrics: Romantic Comedy Done Right

I have a serious soft spot for 2007's "Music and Lyrics". Maybe it's just because I have recurring daydreams where I'm the guy in The Ting Tings and Katie White and I fall madly in love and make dozens of hit songs and tour the world together (I'd be totally cool with just chilling in the background and playing drums while Katie reaps all the glory) and, well, "Music and Lyrics" is probably as close as I'm ever gonna get.

Certainly all the basic elements of your typical rom com are in place. Two leads (Hugh Grant & Drew Barrymore) riffing on screen personas they have played many times before, a stable of supporting characters do that which their name implies while highlighting certain characteristics of the leads. (Kristen Johnson as Barrymore's sister does a marvelous job, throwing herself into every line and bit of body language, but let's also take special note of the man who plays her husband - Adam Grupper. He doesn't get anything to do but just watch him - he is a husband of sixteen years with two kids. He always appears a little tired. Not beaten down but just a little worn, yet still content. No more need to show off to anyone. It's a pitch perfect under-the-radar performance.) There is the Meet Cute and a First Kiss and Swooning Scenes and the Break Up and the moment they Come Back Together and so on and so forth and, no, "Music and Lyrics" isn't revolutionary but damn, man, I don't always want to listen to "Highway Patrolman". Sometimes "Shut Up And Let Me Go" will do just fine.

The as ever amiable, stuttering, squinty/wounded eyed Hugh Grant is Alex Fletcher, once a member of the huge 80's band Pop! before things went sour and Alex became such a has-been he is now being pitched to star in a reality show where he and other 80's has-beens literally box for the right to sing a song. Yuck. But good things are on the horizon. Alex's loyal manager (Brad Garrett) advises that the biggest music superstar in the world, Cora Corman (Haley Bennett, playing her vapidity to the hilt), is an Alex Fletcher fan and wants him to write a song for her new album which they can sing as a duet. She already knows the title - "A Way Back Into Love".

Alex is desperate to do it except for the persnickety problem that he only writes music, not lyrics. Cue Drew Barrymore's tic-infested (she is a hypochondriac who talks to herself and constantly clackety-clacks her pen) Sophie Fisher!

One Issue: The Meet Cute. The Meet Cute in "Music and Lyrics" isn't very good. Sophie is substituting for Alex's regular Plant-Waterer and as she carries out her duties (not very well, I might add) she suggests better lines than those of Alex's hired lyricist and....bam! Alex wants to give her the job!

That? That's our Meet Cute? A Plant Waterer? That's the best you've got? You've got all of Manhattan at your disposal and you give us an apartment and a Plant Waterer? Couldn't Marc Lawrence (writer & director) have brainstormed just a bit more? I know, I know, the Meet Cute is integral to the rom com, yet "Music and Lyrics" does not really suffer too much from this momentary scratch on the record. Perhaps because the film is less interested in how they get together then what they do once they are together, and I can live with that.

First, of course, Sophie doesn't want anything to do with this lyric-authoring gig but, of course, Alex will persist and eventually she will give in and they will reveal bits and pieces of their past and, of course, they will soon realize they have more in common than would ever seem possible.

Both are paralyzed by the past. Alex, whose solo album in the wake of Pop!'s breakup was admittedly terrible, has not recorded anything new in 10 years, relegating himself to re-hashing his old hits at high school reunions and a yearly show at Busch Gardens. It's interesting, though, how Grant plays this. One might expect a boozed-up guy filled with rage and resentment but he seems almost at peace with the decision, even if his skittishness gives himself away a time or two.

Sophie, meanwhile, was a promising writer until an affair with her older college professor (Campbell Scott) who promptly broke up with her, got married and then a wrote book in which the main character was not-so-thinly-veiled as Sofie. To this day she can't get past him and when she and Alex encounter him at a posh restaurant she nearly shuts down. Alex tries to get her to confront him. She can't. So Alex confronts him for her and, well, swimmingly it does not go. But it doesn't matter because he fought for her! Her knight in very tight pants!

So why, when Cora wants to turn their song into an overproduced, Nose-Ring-Christina-Aguliera era romp, won't Alex fight for it, wonders Sophie? But why, wonders Alex, is Sophie is so quick to tuck and run when the song is threatened? It's tempting to say "Music and Lyrics" is without much conflict - always considered a key in the rom com - and while it's true there isn't much external conflict between our two leads there is internal conflict and the movie shows us how one helps the other with their respective problems. I happen to think that is a nice change of pace.

Two people struggling to communicate how they really feel communicating those feelings through music and lyrics and if you think that's just a bunch of cinematic balderdash please direct yourselves to the following words spoken - or, more accurately, screamed in a deposition room - in relation to "Born To Run" by Bruce Springsteen: "I lived every f---ing line of that song. Do you understand that? I lived every f---ing line of that." Or consider "Rumours" and how basically the entire album is one elongated post-breakup rumpus between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

"Music and Lyrics" is a celebration of the pop song - the creation of it, how often it isn't romantic at all even though sometimes is and how we, the audience, the listeners, can have romances with them.

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