In fashioning his story, Lawrence ( Two Weeks Notice ) has come upon a ripe and topical hook: our fascination with has-been musical acts currently being mined to feed the pop-culture machine. The film's opening-credit sequence is a clever, era-appropriate music video for the song “Pop Goes My Heart” by ‘80s sensation PoP! When the band broke up, Alex (Grant) became its Andrew Ridgeley, while his former partner achieved George Michael levels of stardom. As played with a nod and a faded twinkle by Grant, Alex has come to accept his fate, showing a stiff and self-deprecating upper lip as he soldiers through high school reunions and county fair performances.
His fortunes change when he's approached by chart-topping musical princess Cora Corman (Haley Bennett). For reasons glossed over before we realize it's not very likely, teen tart Cora is a huge fan of the much older Alex. She gives him a shot at career rejuvenation by asking him to write a duet for them to sing at Madison Square Garden. With only days to write the song, titled “Way Back Into Love,” Alex is panicked and frazzled in the way Grant sells so well. Holing himself up in his swanky Manhattan pad, he fiddles at the piano while searching for a decent lyricist. His unlikely savior is Sophie (Barrymore), originally hired to water Alex's plants, who also happens to have an untapped knack for emotionally broad lyrical phrases.
It's a cotton-candy setup that would have been justified had Alex and Sophie's inevitable love affair had anything new or interesting to say. But this is uninspired, date-night filmmaking that may satisfy women in the glow of Valentine's Day but won't stand up to the rigorous standards of the best romantic comedies. Females may empathize with Sophie's recent romantic past: She's yet to recover from an affair with her literature professor (Campbell Scott, always a pleasure), who subsequently made her the main character in his best-selling novel, a humiliation that's left her romantically crippled. Alex gets her to buck up and face her jilted ex-lover, and Sophie rewards him with their first night together. As their relationship develops with the inevitability of day following night, they race to finish “Way Back Into Love,” which Cora insists on giving an inappropriately trippy, Buddhist twist.
Perfectly content to channel the spirit of a hundred romantic comedies, Music and Lyrics would be nothing without its leads. However, the usually winning Barrymore has been better. She wisely avoids playing Sophie as an emotional basket case, but she's coasting on a character that requires her to do little more than show up. Grant has more to play with and finds the right combination of charm, humor and resolve, making the most of a limited opportunity. Lawrence has stocked his supporting cast with current and former sitcom stars, as if an extended family of television actors will make everything feel warmer and fuzzier. Brad Garrett ( Everybody Loves Raymond ) brings his baritone to the role of Alex's manager, and Kristen Johnston ( 3rd Rock from the Sun ) plays Sophie's sister, who maintains a decades-long crush on Alex.
Much will be made of Grant and Barrymore doing their own singing, surely a diversionary tactic since the movie they're singing in is not very good. Luckily, their pipes are fine, warbling tunes by talented composer Adam Schlesinger, author of the brilliant title song to Tom Hanks'
That Thing You Do. His “Way Back Into Love” doesn't hit those heights but is still evocative of a musically embarrassing time.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnston and Campbell Scott
Director/Screenwriter: Marc Lawrence
Producers: Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer
Genre: Romantic comedy
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content
Running time: 106 min.
Release date: February 14, 2007