February 22, 2007

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Music and Lyrics (PG-13)
Hugh Grant knocks out all defenses of cynicism and proves that even those impervious to rom-com charms can be reduced to putty in Music and Lyrics, a movie that saves a true blue sarcastic from having to admit to feelings by inserting an annoying, fantasy-puncturing Drew Barrymore.

Poor Drew, you canít play a Charlieís Angel all your life. But she has this too zany for romance, too-moony-for-comedy quality that makes her appearances in romantic comedies just off. As though a dial is turned too loud or some picture is fuzzy.

Opposite Grant she seems particularly ill-fitting, in part because Barrymore is 31 (which she turns on the date of this paperís publication, so, Drew, happy birthday and keep reading, it gets better) and Grant is 46 and both of them look their ages.

Not to say that Grant looks old. As Alex Fletcher (Grant), he has a kind of weary handsomeness that is no longer the floppy boyishness of Four Weddings and a Funeral but a tailored, relaxed kind of comfort with himself. Alex was at one time part of a 1980s pop band called, appropriately, Pop. The lead singer went on to great fame and fortune. Alex remained ďthe other guy,Ē all the more comfortably so when he realized he could make a good living touring state farms and amusement parks and playing reunions. He is a has-been and is more or less happy with this state. Heís not a reacher but heís also fairly comfortable trading on his past glory.

That is until his agent (Brad Garrett) introduces him to Cora (Haley Bennett), a teeny-bopper star who has a fondness for Alexís retro work. She asks him to write a song for her that they can sing together. Grant doesnít believe he can write a song without his old singing partner, the superstar who he never sees anymore, but Grantís agent and Grantís own desire for continued work helps him trip into saying yes.

Grant sits stuck at the piano trying to find a song to go with the Cora-determined title ďA Way Back Into LoveĒ when Sophie (Barrymore), the plant waterer, comes bumbling through the door. (Let us all pause for a moment to consider the kind of life where you pay a person to come in and water your plants. Dreamy sigh. OK, moving on.) Sophie is quite lousy at the whole plant hydrating task but she is able to throw out a decent pop-love line, so Alex sets to work trying to get her to write the song with him. Eventually the two find themselves working together ó Alex on music and Sophie on lyrics ó and becoming drawn to each other.

Alex Fletcher is a charming package of personal anxieties and disappointments and chin-up optimism that can waltz with his pop-star backstory through the predictable twists and turns of this puppy love story. Sophie, however, is given a half-baked and completely silly bundle of character motivations that make so little sense they make Barrymoreís awkward fit in the role seem even shakier. Sophie was a masterís student in writing but had an affair with a professor who took their relationship and turned it into a story that vilified her. Iím not sure that this thoroughly explains why a 31-year-old woman works watering plants.

Perhaps to make up for that perplexing bit of character development, the script gives her a sister, Rhonda (Kristen Johnson), with a relatively tolerable grown-up family. The sisterís husband is devoted to her and helps Rhonda with the kids as Rhonda runs the family weight-loss business. This isnít Billy Wilderesque hilarity but it makes Sophieís strange and limp character seem more like she might fit into the world.

Iím not sure who, exactly, would have better worked this unnecessarily burdened Sophie role but an actress a good 10 years older than Barrymore would have seemed truer to Alexís character. We see him as a man self-absorbed and yet totally unburdened by ego. A young chippy seems out of whack for a man who good-naturedly makes fun of a hip injury while on stage.

On the other hand, thank goodness for Barrymore. How trite to develop a crush on the male lead of a romantic comedy released on Valentineís Day, her jarring note saved me from too much Grant-adoration. And even with Barrymore the movie is as easy to enjoy as high-quality milk chocolate. Grant is affable, so much more romantic as a middle-aged man than he was as a young guy and so perfectly suited that heís even able to make many of the Barrymore scenes of meaningful looks and charged kisses seem genuine. The movie has something that many a romantic comedy forgets ó likeable leads, and not likeable in spite of themselves but because of their ultimately attractive personalities. Didnít have the Valentineís Day you wanted? Enjoy a small slice of twitterpation here. B-

Rated PG-13 for some sexual content. Written and directed by Mac Lawrence, Music and Lyrics is an hour and 36 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.