In Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant plays Alex Fletcher, an aging pop star from an '80s band called Pop who, in his heyday, looked like a cross between Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes and Wham!’s George Michael. He has been reduced to performing at theme parks and on the VH1-esque “Battle of the 80’s Has-Beens” until one day he receives word that Cora Corman, the pop princess du jour, wants him to help her compose a song for her new album.
Although Alex hires a professional lyricist, it's only when Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore) comes to water his plants and shows a surprising knack for songwriting that the tune — and their love — come together. Music, meet lyrics.
A mixed bag, to be sure, Music and Lyrics gets off to a clunky start and ends in a predictable pool of feel-good treacle. But it’s the chewy center of this Tootsie Pop of a film that makes it worth watching, so
The scenes between Barrymore and Grant in Alex’s Manhattan apartment, as they attempt to cobble together the catchy tune “Find A Way Back Into Love,” are reminiscent of Woody Allen’s great 70’s New York films like Annie Hall. Here, Grant and Barrymore (who do their own singing) share a relaxed, silly, and sweet rapport that makes their surprising chemistry work. As Sophie paces around clicking her pen, we discover that she has given up her desire to write because of an ex-lover who convinced her she was no good.
Melodies are like sex, Sophie theorizes, and lyrics are like getting to know one another. The build-up of Alex and Sophie’s attraction around this conceit of song-writing actually works. You get caught up in their romance, and although you know they sleep together, it’s the long-awaited performance of their completed song that that constitutes the true climax of Music and Lyrics.
It is in these song-writing scenes, as well, that the film forges its “defense of pop” thesis. Pop is an oft-maligned genre, but Sophie tries to convince Alex that both his band Pop and the genre itself have their virtues. “How many novels does it take to create the feeling of one good pop song?“ she asks. She’s got a point, I found myself thinking.
Certain good pop songs allow us to mainline their emotions, providing quick hits of fun or even redemption in one short, sweet package. Like a good pop song, the romantic comedy must also find a balance between fluff and meaning, and Music and Lyrics interjects enough “minor key” moments into its silly notes that you actually walk away feeling that you’ve met people you care about.
In the end, Music and Lyrics makes a claim for a nostalgic kind of pop, before the over-produced likes of Britney and Avril came along. At the end of the film, when Cora and Alex finally perform “Find a Way Back Into Love,” Cora eschews her Britney-esque stage antics (involving Buddha and a lot of gyrating) and just sings the heartfelt duet. I’m humming the song right now as I write this, and I agree with the teenage girl I overheard as I left the theater saying, “I want that song as my ringtone!”
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.