I consider myself a non-fan of romantic comedies. Two attractive people meeting and eventually falling in love under incredibly contrived conditions after “overcoming” a series of coincidental obstacles is not my idea of a good movie or even a comedy. However, I have always made the exception for one Mr. Hugh Grant, who (ever since Four Weddings and a Funeral) has made it seem effortlessly easy to be charming, funny, insecure, bumbling, neurotic, sarcastic, and ultimately love-worthy all at the same time. In Music and Lyrics, he once again expresses his rom-com genius as Alex Fletcher, a former 80s pop star (an obvious parody of Andrew Ridgely — the forgotten member of 80s super-group Wham — the faux music video during the credits is a riot!) who finds love with Drew Barrymore as his plant-caretaker turned lyricist. Grant gets most of the humourous lines and delivers them perfectly, but Barrymore gets most of the cuteness. Together I’m not sure they really make a believable couple, but they’re still pretty fun to watch.
Part of the problem might be the fact that in past movies, they have both had more grounded partners to play against. When Drew Barrymore acts neurotic and daffy, it’s hard to believe that Grant will be her sober shoulder to lean on and vice versa. Thankfully, the bulk of the movie is not really focused on them falling in love. That part is almost incidental (though there is one extremely contrived scene full of close-ups and sexual tension leading to their sleeping together that is too too cliche). Before the love part, they build up great chemistry as collaborators on a song for a Britney-esque pop diva named Cora (an incredibly terrible performance by newcomer Haley Bennett–at one point I honestly thought that the character was going to reveal that she was reciting rehearsed lines, but the stiffness must have been unintentional). Grant and Barrymore really make the getting-to-know-you and the development of a warm friendship seem very easy, natural and fun. I am way more convinced of them as platonic BFFs than lovers.
OK, so what about the music? (I know. It’s right there in the title…) As a Wham! fan myself (the LPs are still around here somewhere with the rest of my 80s relics — no, the white pants did not survive), I found the songs were actually pretty good: catchy and fun. In fact, I’m still singing them to myself days later. The fake hit single for the fake band Pop! is called Pop Goes My Heart, and along with the video, it’s an excellent spoof on any number of the 80s euro bands like A-Ha, Kajagoogoo or Duran Duran. If you’re into pop music, then these songs will be a nice refresher. Grant is not a bad singer (though those 80s songs didn’t exactly require awesome pipes). Barrymore is less good, and when they’re doing the demo tape for the song that they wrote, I was wondering if someone else had dubbed her singing. Nevertheless, it’s all imitation pop music (I’d laugh if any of it really made it onto the charts) and has all the beauty and authenticity of some really nice plastic plants (which is an appropriate metaphor in this context–you’ll see).
Besides the couple-y part, this movie is pretty much a light, cinematic confection without much to say. At one point, Barrymore’s Sophie is convincing Grant’s Alex that the pop songs which have been his legacy are substantial and meaningful (rather than artistic “dessert” as he’d described them). I couldn’t help but wonder if they’re also justifying the rom-com genre and their own two careers as actors. Who’s to say that it’s less important to bring easy joy and pleasure to a viewing or listening audience? I think Grant and Barrymore really excel at being enjoyable to watch and root for. When they’re happy on screen, I feel happier myself. They are actually able to take the same movie conventions as a dozen other romantic comedies and make them really work. If that can be considered art, then they’re both true artistes. (4 out of 5)