Understand that to appreciate the 2007 release "Music and Lyrics," you have to like three things: romantic comedies, Hugh Grant, and Drew Barrymore. If you don't care for any one or more of these elements going into the movie, the movie won't work for you. Indeed, even if you do like all three of these elements, as I do, it still might not work for you. I know it worked only intermittently for me. "Music and Lyrics" isn't one of the worst examples of the genre, but it isn't one of the best, either.
While writer-director Marc Lawrence takes a step up here from his vacuous "Miss Congeniality" movies, he still doesn't pull off the romance or the comedy necessary for a good romantic comedy. What's more, he tries to fill in the blank spaces by adding a few satiric jabs at the pop-music scene ("It's all about 'business'") that don't quite work, either. The satire is not dry enough ("Spinal Tap") or zany enough ("Austin Powers") to make much impact. Fortunately, Lawrence can rely on the charisma of his two lead stars, and he gets at least a half a dozen hardy laughs from them, so maybe that's enough to save the picture for some people.
Grant plays Alex Fletcher, a washed-up '80s pop star who once sang in a group called, appropriately, PoP, and had six number-one singles, including the insipid 'PoP Goes My Heart." Today, he's a has-been, reduced to singing at state fairs and class reunions. Even Knott's Berry Farm canceled him, although a TV reality show called "Battle of the '80s Has-Beens" has offered him the chance to box other forgotten stars. Yes, actually box them, as in fight them, the winner getting to sing a song at the show's conclusion. He passes on the offer. Yet the story idea is just silly enough to be cute. If only there were more such bits.
As Alex, Grant is his usual appealing, self-effacing self, probably too genuinely nice a guy for the role he's playing, which would have turned any normal human being into a loathsome monster by this time. Instead, Alex accepts his fate with a smile, content to play amusement parks to aging fans.
But he's given a reprieve. A talentless young pop singer, Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), the biggest female-singer heartthrob in the nation at the moment, asks Alex to write a song for her, fast, like in three days. If he can pull it off, the two of them will sing it at Madison Square Garden, and it will undoubtedly reignite Alex's moribund career. But Alex is a writer of music, not lyrics, so he needs a lyricist in a hurry. In comes flower lady Sophie Fisher (Barrymore).
Sophie is a complete stranger to Alex, a woman who comes to his apartment as a replacement for the lady who usually waters Alex's plants. Apparently, celebrities need people to water their plants for them, their being so continually occupied with artistic endeavors and all they don't have time for watering cans. Sophie just happens to be an English major who also writes slogans for her sister's weight-loss company. She's good at rhymes, as Alex soon finds out, and he begs her to help him with his song.
Naturally, the two struggle over the next few days to put a song together, all the while falling in love. Only they don't know it. True to romantic-comedy formula, the audience can see Alex and Sophie's attraction for one another long before they do. So, it's just a matter of waiting out the few conflicts that develop until the two finally get together.
Here's the thing: I never saw or felt much chemistry between Grant and Barrymore, the kind that should carry a good romance. His character is too decent and too proper for much fission to unfold, and her character is too self-consciously eccentric and quirky even to appear real. Moreover, in real life Grant is about fifteen years older than Barrymore, and, frankly, it shows, making the romance a tad awkward. Yes, I know that fifteen years is not that big a deal, that it happens all the time, and that in the world of pop celebrities a fifteen-year difference in age is like a fifteen-day difference in the rest of the cosmos. Still....
Then there is a secondary conflict involving Sophie and a jerk of an ex-flame (Campbell Scott) that goes nowhere, a reference to Alex's old singing partner (Scott Porter) that goes nowhere, asides with Alex's manager (Brad Garrett) that go nowhere, and episodes with Sophie's older sister (Kristen Johnston) that go nowhere. They all seem like filler while we wait to get back to the central issue of Grant and Barrymore.
Nevertheless, Grant has a few good, cynical lines, mainly throwaways that come off as funny, if a little too clever for their own good, that keep us interested. And there's an ending that is expectedly upbeat and appropriately tender that helps, too. All in all, "Music and Lyrics" could have had more rhythm and a better beat, but for what it is, it offers some lighthearted (some would say lamebrained) escapism. Just thank your stars Grant is in it, or it might have gone completely belly up.
The disc renders the movie's 1.85:1 theatrical dimensions at a 1.78:1 ratio that fills out a widescreen television. However, I noticed during the end credits that lopping off a fraction of the sides does result in some of the closing text coming dangerously close to the edges of the screen. Be that as it may, the WB engineers use a healthy bit rate to produce an anamorphic picture with deep colors and suitably intense black levels.
The colors are bright and a little gaudy, which seem to fit the occasion perfectly. That bit rate I mentioned keeps the color depth strong, although it doesn't do a lot for the definition, which looks ordinary. Facial hues vary, too, with Grant's face often seeming a bit too dark and Barrymore's face a bit too light.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is fairly average, although, to be fair, reproducing the music to soft-pop tunes isn't the biggest challenge in the world. There is a decent-enough front-channel stereo spread, and clean midrange definition for the dialogue. Otherwise, you get only a touch of musical ambience and little else in the surrounds, little in the way of dynamics, and even less deep bass.
First up among the extras are eight additional, deleted scenes, totaling about eleven minutes and presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. Following the deleted scenes is a four-minute gag reel in anamorphic widescreen, made up mostly of the cast members goofing and cracking up. Then there's a thirteen-minute, behind-the-scenes featurette, "Note for Note: The Making of Music and Lyrics," which provides just about what we have come to expect from these kinds of promotional features. Finally, there is a music video, "PoP! Goes My Heart," apparently the same one that begins the movie, but here you get to see it without the opening titles.
The extras conclude with twenty-four scene selections, but no chapter insert; trailers at start-up only for various other Warner Bros. releases; and English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles.
I've mentioned before that I'm a sucker for romantic comedies. Even so, I found "Music and Lyrics" only a middling entry in the field, with Hugh Grant always watchable in these kind of things and an ending that is appropriately sweet. If you're looking forward to Bruce Willis in the next installment of "Die Hard," you might want to duck this one; otherwise, "Music and Lyrics" passes a mildly pleasant, if entirely forgettable, few minutes.