There’s nothing wrong with a fluffy film that doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is: a pleasant way to pass the time. Executed well, it can offer a welcome break from the mundane and such is MUSIC AND LYRICS. Delicately spun and deftly acted, it’s a harmless trifle that amuses and sometimes delights.
Hugh Grant is Alex, a self-described happy has-been who made it big in the music biz back in the 80s and has since made peace with playing nostalgia shows, state fairs, and high school reunions. And there’s barely a whiff of resentment that his band mate went on to even greater glory with a solo career and blockbuster films. Alex is happily skimming along through life under the hang-dog guidance of his faithful manager (Brad Garrett) when two earth-shaking events occur. Cora, the reigning pop-princess taps Alex to write a song for her next album, and Sophie (Drew Barrymore) comes over to water his plants. Oddly enough, there is an underlying synchronicity at work here. Alex can only write music, not lyrics, and Sophie, while nattering on about why she’s filling in for the regular plant-waterer, tosses off some lyrics that are as polished as Sophie is oblivious to that fact she has the gift that Alex so desperately lacks. When the best he can come up with for a love song is the word “autopsy”, Sophie blithely tosses off a rhyme that works. At least as much as that sort of imagery can work with the more tender emotions.
With less than a week to deliver the finished song and revitalize his career enough to play Disney World before the younger nostalgia acts muscle him out, the race is on for Alex to convince Sophie to collaborate with him. Alas, that is harder than it sounds, what with her unfortunate recent past, increasingly traumatic present, and a future full of painful embarassment. Naturally, it’s all due to an old boyfriend (Campbell Scott), who defines the concept of jerk but who still has a hold on Sophie.
And so the adventure begins as Alex and Sophie get swept up in the moment despite personal quirks that would drive them apart if Alex were any less determined to be a more successful happy has-been.
Buoyed by Grant and Barrymore, the film is always charming, sometimes witty, and from time to time, actually hilarious, especially when Alex attempts to bolster Sophie’s ego by defending her honor to her ex with mixed results. Grant blends condescension and self-deprecation into a biting wit that somehow fails to be off-putting, instead Alex becomes an endearing slacker who has given up trying and uses brisk repartee to keep the world at bay. Barrymore makes of Sophie a soulful ditz with underachieving issues of her own that in no way impede her bucking up Alex about what’s good about the music he’s been living off of for two decades or so. They play off each other with a nice chemistry, that’s just a hair short of magical. Never mind. Their timing is impeccable, and if the situations aren’t new, the dialogue is pithy enough to ward off most of the staleness of the scenario.
They are abetted by a mostly able supporting cast, including some catchy pop songs performed by Grant and Barrymore. As their nemesis/ savior, Cora is played without irony by Haley Bennett nails it, finding the deep empty center of a character whose devotion to the trappings of eastern mysticism overcomes her complete misunderstanding of any of its concepts is as misguided as her concept of music performance as a constant bump-and-grind. The clunker is Kristen Johnston as Sophie’s sister who never got over her teenage crush on Alex. Johnston goes over the top and then some, going broad when nothing and no one else does. Or should.
Get some popcorn, settle in, and prepare to hum along as MUSIC AND LYRICS ambles its way across the screen. It won’t be a profound experience, but it will be a sweet one.