You know, I’ve come to expect certain things from Drew Barrymore’s romantic comedies. I expect that she’ll be bumbling and ditzy and cute in a relatively inoffensive way that doesn’t inspire an outcry from bulimiophobes (I cannot wait for the day when men, women, gays, and stick-figure actresses will all be treated equally in this country). I expect that her character will be neurotic in the blandest way possible, and I expect a premise that will wear itself out after about 10 minutes. But most of all, I expect to see Adam Sandler or some reasonable facsimile (Jimmy Fallon) thereof. So, what the hell is a charming, affable bloke doing in a Drew Barrymore comedy?
It doesn’t really matter, of course. Hugh Grant, Michael Vartan, Ben Stiller, or Jimmy Fallon: It’s still not the fucking Wedding Singer, which is apparently Barrymore’s one lifelong pursuit — to create an unofficial sequel to the only film she’s ever appeared in that no one under the age of 40 hasn’t seen 17 times (and if you’re the exception to this rule, you’ve clearly never watched TBS hungover on a Saturday afternoon. You’ve got some serious drinking to catch up on, and if you need an excuse, just watch Music and Lyrics).
With Music and Lyrics, Julia Gulia is now in her 30s, but she’s still got a thing for Robbie Harts, only this one is a washed-up pop artist with a respectable haircut and a British accent. He was once the “other guy” in the Wham-inspired duo PoP, which had a string of hits in the late ’80s, notably “Pop Goes My
Aneurism Heart,” a catchy little ditty that will rattle around in your head like a local cable advertisement until you can escape the theater and find something else as abhorrently infectious (I’m crankin’ Def Leppard’s greatest hits at the moment, hoping to find something that will stick, while asking myself, “Do I Wanna Get Rocked?” The answer: Sure. But this ain’t doing it for me.) Anyway, the George Michael half of PoP (“Friday Night Lights”’ Scott Porter [he can walk!]) abandoned him in the early ’90s and became an übersuccessful solo artist, leaving Alex (Hugh Grant) doing the county-fair-and-Hilton circuit, only those appearance have recently started to dry up as more recent has-beens (The Spice Girls, Ricky Martin) have begun to supplant him.
However, a teenage pop singer, Cora — who is a cross between “Britney and Christina” (man, I’d hate to see her boyfriend if he’s supposed to be a cross between K-Fed and Jordan Bratman — K Jo?) — has a nostalgic fondness for Alex and wants him to write a song for her to help get over a breakup. It’s supposed to be a shot in the arm for his career. A second chance. His Travolta in Pulp Fiction moment. Or whatever. The problem, of course, is that Alex hasn’t written a song in 10 years and, besides, he no longer has a lyricist.
Enter Sophie Fisher, who takes over the plant-watering duties in Alex’s apartment (it’s a very lucrative profession, I understand) and begins aimlessly mumbling rhymes to Alex’s piano melodies. Bam! Woody’s found his Soon Yi, a three-minute travesty to pop music is born, and Sophie and Alex bump uglies under the piano. And all I can think is: Where the hell is Adam Sandler?
Sadly, the film doesn’t end there; we are, instead, treated to Sophie’s prolonged backstory, which has something to do with an affair with an engaged lit professor (Campbell Scott, in a throwaway role); being the inspiration for his bestselling novel about an empty, stalkerific grad student; and some sort of life-stunting trauma, not unlike the experience of watching Music and Lyrics.
Granted, Hugh Grant is likeable and charming, Drew Barrymore is … well, she’s Drew Barrymore, and the pop music is irresistibly catchy and awful all the same, yet Music and Lyrics manages to transcend all of the elements here that would otherwise create a pleasant, but ultimately empty, romantic comedy and, instead, gravitate toward some sort of unexplored ethereal world of chest-wound suckitude, the sort of film that might inspire more creative forms of suicide for moviegoers (like, pubicide: death by pubic hair!).
I blame writer and director Marc Lawrence. Not content to torture us with Sandra Bullock features (Two Weeks Notice, the Miss Congeniality “franchise”), Lawrence has once again managed to extract all the appeal out of his talent and saddle them with zingy one-liners that thud under the weight of protracted scenes, unnecessary exposition, wasted side characters, and lazy contrivances. Worst of all, however, is that Lawrence is not self-aware enough to succeed here in the same way that The Wedding Singer did: by taking the schmaltzy cornball and rolling with it, instead of trying to pass it off as sincere woo material. You can win the girl with a silly heartfelt pop song sung with the help of Billy Idol, but you can’t win her with a silly pop song sung with complete earnestness at a teenybopper concert. Especially if, like Hugh Grant, you’re freakin’ 47 years old. It’s just embarrassing.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
Music and Lyrics / Dustin Rowles
Film | February 16, 2007 | Comments ()