In just about every profile I’ve read, actor Hugh Grant comes across as a slightly misanthropic, rather lost pessimist who’s acutely uncomfortable with his image as an affable bit of British rom-com crumpet. Of course, there are bills to be paid, and Grant regularly coughs up rumpled charm for Hollywood, even when copping to his escapade with a Los Angeles lady of the evening. But if Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually have made him rich and put roses in the cheeks of millions of Anglophile date-movie goers of both sexes, it’s the rotters on Grant’s résumé — the manipulative court painter in Restoration; a conniving theater director in Mike Newell’s An Awfully Big Adventure; the cad who makes Bridget Jones’ life miserable, twice; the deracinated cynic in About a Boy — who ring true to an underlying bitterness and alienation one wants to know more about. Among its other sins, the disposable romantic comedy Music and Lyrics fluffs a golden opportunity to make hay with Grant’s dark side. Written and directed by Marc Lawrence, who wrote Miss Congeniality and a couple of other recyclable Sandra Bullock vehicles, the movie casts Grant as Alex Fletcher, an over-the-hill 1980s boy-band star who now subsists by lip-synching his own songs for sparse but adoring crowds of middle-aged matrons at amusement parks and country fairs. My hopes were raised by a deliciously daft opening sequence flashing back to Alex’s salad days belting out his band’s appalling signature tune, “Pop Goes My Heart” — Grant does physical comedy with just enough rueful disclaimer to lace his slapstick with irony. But from there, it’s a steep downhill slide into cloying pap. Far from playing the embittered has-been who might have brought some bilious wit to the party, the actor slips into the stammering, frowning, blinking bumbler we’ve seen him do many times, running slender fingers through his age-inappropriate hair as he waits to be plucked from limbo by a wholesome wench with her head screwed on right.
Plagued by nerves when a ditsy teen sensation (a very good Haley Bennett) approaches him to write a song for her act, Alex is saved from paralysis by Sophie (Drew Barrymore), the girl who waters his plants and turns out to be a dab hand with lyrics fueled by her own past wounds inflicted by a caddish writing professor — a part capably played by Campbell Scott but made to be handed to Grant. Barrymore, who looks, sounds and carries herself more like Susan Sarandon with each passing year, is a maturing glamourpuss to be reckoned with, but here she’s utterly wasted as one of those generically quirky sensible types who dresses funny, cares nothing for fame and fortune, and shows our hapless hero what really counts in life. They talk, they laugh, they simper. The sun goes up and down on the New York skyline. They make really terrible music we’re meant to find superior to the pop-lite drivel affectionately sent up in the movie’s few watchable scenes. But as the suave ’40s-style romance Lawrence clearly means it to be, Music and Lyrics is strictly easy listening. For one thing, the script is witless. For another, no one seems to notice that our hero “grows up” by hitching himself to a girl-child at least 15 years his junior.
MUSIC AND LYRICS | Written and directed by MARC LAWRENCE | Produced by MARTIN SHAFER and LIZ GLOTZER | Released by Warner Bros. Pictures | Citywide