Sunday, February 11, 2007

Music and Lyrics, but no plot

I confess, I saw Music and Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Do not admonish me too much: I did not have to pay for it at least, as it was being screened in advance of the release date for free. (I think it is officially released on Valentine's Day, conveniently enough). Only my time and incredulity at the sheer badness of Hollywood scriptwriting were spent. I saw the movie in part because my memory of enjoying Hugh Grant had eclipsed my ability to detect that the movie itself looked pretty bad. However, it did not take too long into the film to grasp this. The plot is silly, one-dimensional, and poorly-developed, though probably because there is not much of a plot to develop. 'So?' you say, 'it's a romantic comedy, it doesn't need a strong plot.' I object. Any good movie has a plot that holds up, and there are romantic comedies that are good movies. Still, a strong plot is hard to achieve, and often, romantic comedies feel they can ignore plot considerations like consistency and development in favor of shoveling feel-goodness and sugary "wit" at the audience.

Particularly disappointing was Hugh Grant's role as the washed up 80s pop singer and resident wag. As has been pointed out often enough, Grant has two characters: the stammering, clever nice guy of his earlier movies and the cad of his later ones. Sometimes the latter role has bits of the former role in it, as in About a Boy, Six Weeks Notice, and Music and Lyrics. (Yes, I've seen too many Hugh Grant movies). In the latter two movies, the stammering cad has morphed a little into a resigned but delighted sell-out whose authenticity is only wrought out of him when he meets and consummates a relationship with an earthy, hippy-ish girl. The wardrobe of Barrymore's character symbolized the true extent of her hippy authenticity, however: apparently bohemian but clearly off the rack of Urban Outfitters.

The two meet at the perfect time: Grant needs to write a song for the most successful pop star of the moment, Cora Corman, and Barrymore, who appears at his apartment to substitute for his normal plant-waterer (yes, I'm not making that up), happens to be a wordsmith, happens to reveal this talent, and happens to be persuaded by Grant's character to write a song with him. The song is everything you would expect of a two-day endeavor, but it is asserted to the audience at every turn that it is a worthy number that will be bastardized by Cora Corman. The problem is, it's a terrible song. Just as last year's Stranger than Fiction averred that the book written by Emma Thompson's character which frames the film is poised to be a masterpiece, absent any evidence that there is anything remarkable about it, so too does Music and Lyrics assert something that isn't true, but rather only expedient for the plot.

And how about that plot? By about forty-five minutes into the film, Grant and Barrymore have already written their song. The movie still needs at least a half an hour more, so it is dragged out with a couple of "twists" (they're asked to write another verse of the song, Cora Corman turns the song into a weird sitar-and-belly-dancing act). A subplot involving Barrymore's character and a college professor with whom she had an affair and soon after became a muse for an unflattering piece of fiction based on their relationship adds to the mess. And of course, Drew Barrymore is very sweet, large eyes and all. In fact, her eyes are so large, they will swallow you. The best thing about Music and Lyrics is the take-off of a 1980s music video, and that comes at the way beginning, so, if you choose to blow money on this one, prepare for the movie to get progressively worse.

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