Waning Harmony 

Barrymore and Grant step leisurely through vapid comedy

Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is a former singer from a Wham!-inspired '80s band called PoP! He gets the promise of a career boost from slinky Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), a Britney Spears-like singer, who appoints Alex to write a duet called "Way Back Into Love." With only melody writing as his strong suit, Alex persuades his loquacious substitute houseplant keeper Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore) to help him write a song that Cora must choose over versions she assigned to other musicians. The novelty of comedic musical hooks and the eye-pleasing coupling of Barrymore and Grant dissolve with writer/director Marc Lawrence's (Miss Congeniality) predictable storyline.

A problem with most Hollywood romantic comedies is that there is never enough of either component, romance or comedy. Hugh Grant is a one-trick pony whose boyish charms simultaneously captivate your attention while obliterating any belief that he could be monogamous longer than a one-night stand. Drew Barrymore has the opposite effect. She seems like a naive girl trying to hand her heart out to whatever guy will lug it around for her. Sophie keeps Alex's attention through her knack for rhymes, her unique logic that explains how a song's melody is synonymous with sex and that its lyrics reveal the underlying personality of the singer.   

Sophie is recovering from a break up with her former writing professor, a supremely snotty Sloan Cates (Campbell Scott), who based his debut novel on Sophie and, incidentally, robbed her of her identity. Sophie thinks she'll never write again, and Alex engages her sense of playfulness to break her out of her mire. You can't help but smile when Alex describes Sophie as "Cole Porter in panties," but her impromptu rhyming of lyrics to the theme of a "Love Autopsy" disproves his assertion. Still, it's a funny bit made snappy by songwriter Adam Schlesinger's catchy stripping down of '80s synthesizers and drum machines to the idiosyncrasies of their blissful melodies.  

Set in Manhattan, Music and Lyrics has an automatic ace-in-the-hole character in the guise of New York City. It's fun to imagine a British pop singer in his mid-40s, who now plays gigs at amusement parks and corporate parties, saving his career with a smart young sprite in his high-rise apartment. Clearly inspired by the VH-1 celebrity series, Behind the Music, that looks back on musicians' careers, the movie opens with a signed-sealed-delivered music video (circa 1986) in which Alex's hair is on display while the band mimes their hit song, "Pop Goes My Heart." A black-and-white checkerboard background perfects the depiction of a hair-band video. The song's musical call-and-response between vocal and drumsynth is hilarious, and Hugh Grant is idiotically good as the band's co-frontman.

Music and Lyrics has enough things going for it (casting and location) that you can almost forgive it for its blandness and mock scolding of teen-queen-celebrity culture in the guise of Cora Corman. However, neither of the main characters ever seem to fall in love. The big finale duet happens in Madison Square Garden with Alex singing opposite a sexed-up Cora, and Sophie milling about in the audience with her music-fan sister Rhonda (Kristen Johnston). This surrogate musical alliance between Alex and Cora could have sustained some jealous tension if Alex and Sophie had shared more musical duets. In a movie about making music, there isn't enough harmony, rhythm or melody to make up for the lack of passion. 

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