Sunday, March 6, 2016

Music and Lyrics (2007)

Director: Marc Lawrence                                  Writer: Marc Lawrence
Film Score: Adam Schlesinger                         Cinematography: Xavier Grobet
Starring: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett and Kristen Johnston

I don’t like Drew Barrymore and never really have, probably because of her continued association with Adam Sandler. Still, even actors I don’t like to watch usually make one film that I really like. For Barrymore, this is it. Music and Lyrics also features a long-in-the-tooth Hugh Grant, already forty-seven at the time the film was released trying to work out a relationship with the thirty-two year old Barrymore. His days as a lead in a romantic comedy should have been over, but director Marc Lawrence makes it work for him, just barely. All of the leads are good, and aided by a nice comedic bit part from Aasif Mandvi. What isn’t just good, however, but great, is the soundtrack. Not only are the eighties throwbacks spot on, but the modern songs ring true as well. The centerpiece of the film is the song “Way Back Into Love” which Grant and Barrymore write, and composer Adam Schlesinger does a terrific job with a simplistic melody and lyrics to create something that genuinely pulls in listeners of all ages. In fact, all of the composers should be commended, as the soundtrack album itself went to number sixty-three on the album charts. There are only two films which boast songwriting for a specific period that are as good, the first is The Idolmaker, which emulates the pre-Beatles early sixties to perfection. The other is Tom Hanks’ early-Beatles, mid-sixties era That Thing You Do. The soundtrack to this film deserves to stand among those as one of the great homages to a musical era ever put on film.

The film begins with an absolutely stunning recreation of an eighties video, complete with synthesized music and lame story line, just the way they did it in the mid-eighties. Hugh Grant plays the has-been keyboard player from the group Pop. His partner in the group has gone on to major success while Grant has been left behind. His manager, Brad Garrett, does his best to get him work but it’s slim pickings for forgotten eighties bands. It turns out, however, that one of the current teen singing idols, Haley Bennett, wants to meet with him and Garrett has a good feeling about it. Meanwhile, Drew Barrymore shows up as a ditz who is replacing Grant’s usually plant-waterer, but after she accidentally pricks her finger on a cactus she winds up leaving in a rush. That evening, when Bennett meets with Grant she wants to commission a song from him. At first he’s enthused to rework one of his old chestnuts, but she wants something new, something fresh, and that puts Grant into a panic. He wrote the music for Pop, but has no idea how to write lyrics. Garrett puts him in touch with lyricist Jason Antoon who has the grimmest outlook imaginable, and while Grant is trying to steer him toward something more suitable for the title Bennett has given him, “Way Back Into Love,” Barrymore throws something out unconsciously while she’s watering the plants that Grant loves. With the pressure on, he ditches Antoon and decides to get Barrymore to write his lyrics. And that’s where the romcom nightmare begins.

It turns out that Barrymore is a writer, but only when she’s in the mood. And that, it seems, is not an easy task. She’s been traumatized by a past relationship with a college English professor who has written a Lolita-esque book about his relationship with her. She also has a sister, Kristen Johnston, who runs a diet program business and has a massive crush on Grant. They only have a week to write the song and, to top things off, they wind up in bed together, which complicates the already complicated even further. While there are certain aspects of the film that are difficult to swallow--the whole Lolita relationship is the worst, and almost painful to watch--one fact is undeniable, and that is that Marc Lawrence’s screenplay saves the day. He had worked with Grant previously on Two Weeks Notice, as well as later on the middle-age romcom The Rewrite, and has a real handle on the dry and self-deprecating humor of the actor, so much so that the writing is almost solely worth watching the film for. The technical side of the film is also impressive. In addition to the wonderful soundtrack, the set design is tremendous. Not only the New York apartment scenes, but the concert and the L.A. studio sets are perfect. Lawrence and his cinematographer Xavier Grobet come up with interesting shot selection and lighting throughout. But at the end of the day it the inspirational nature of the story line that is undeniable. Music and Lyrics is one of those improbable films that shouldn’t really work, but succeeds beyond the audience’s wildest expectations. It’s that good.

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