In the opening scene of Music and Lyrics, we are treated to a masterful parody of an 80’s music video, featuring Hugh Grant as one of the lead singers. I laughed the whole time because it captured British New Wave music perfectly with the boppy synthesizers, the Flock of Seagulls haircuts, the Duran Duran cheesy story and acting, the Haircut 100 picture book world, the ABC lounge lizard vocals, and even a little Wham homoeroticism sprinkled throughout. It brought me back to junior high school dances, and high school angst. Although by high school, I was well into edgier stuff like punk and ska.
The movie is set in the present with Hugh Grant playing Alex Fletcher, a has-been 80’s star, now playing in state fairs and amusement parks and quite happy about it. His former music partner had long ago left to greater glory, numerous hit albums, movies and even a knighthood. This is an obvious parallel to George Michael’s fame once he left Wham!
The plot is based around Alex having an opportunity to write a song for a pop princess, a Prozac-laden blend of Britney and Christina, with a heavy dose of Madonna’s penchant for religious appropriation. He must complete the song in three days. His career depends on it, because as his agent explains, “there are new old bands coming up all the time”. The only problem is that he’s strictly a melody man, and terrible at lyrics.
Enter the spacey plant lady, Sophie Fisher, played by Drew Barrymore, who has a knack for putting out rhyme. Like most Hollywood movies, the romance is completely improbable, a relationship gestating over basically two and a half days, and resulting in undying eternal love. But film is fantasy and fantasy is fun.
Even though they meet for just a few days, the process is an intense interaction that pushes their buttons and forces them to confront their self-imposed limitations. For Sophie, she moves past her insecurities as a writer. For Alex, he develops into an artist of integrity. Together they make beautiful music.
Neither of the actors push themselves in this movie. Hugh Grant is his familiar self-deprecating charmer. Drew Barrymore plays her usual saccharine girl-next-door. One is witty, the other witless. Together they lead the audience through the comfortable calisthenics of the romantic comedy. As I understand it, this is the routine:
- Boy meets girl. They’re an unlikely pair but they feel drawn to each other.
- They share an intense experience and they bond over it. It’s usually a very short period of time.
- One of them seriously screws up, does something to betray the other.
- The other person leaves. Both feel alone and empty without the other.
- The betrayer makes a grand gesture to the other, sometimes very publicly, that once and for all shows how much he or she loves the other.
- They get back together amid applause and joy from all the bystanders, cueing the audience to feel the same way.
- During the credits, it’s explained that they marry, and that it wasn’t just a transient infatuation.
While Music and Lyrics follows this pattern, it does so with self-awareness, adding layers of depth. In this case, it has great catchy songs, lovingly constructed parodies, a hilarious supporting cast, inspired writing, and solid workmanlike performances from two fine performers who excel in the genre.