Back in the nineteen-eighties, Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) was a key member of the hugely successful band Pop!, writing the melodies for their biggest songs, but as is the way with such things, come the nineties and they split up. The singer went on to be an equally huge solo star, but for Alex life turned quieter as his fame cooled significantly. Today he has been called in to be interviewed for a new television show which could potentially be a comeback for him, and he's excited about reviving his career until the producers inform him he won't be required to sing, this is a boxing competition pitting "hasbeens" against one another. Alex declines, and it's back to the high school reunions and theme parks for him...
Writer and director Marc Lawrence is not often mentioned when discussing the great auteurs, and that's possibly because he specialised in women-friendly, lightweight works that don't go down too well with the tastemakers, and well, other men, really. But Music and Lyrics, while still largely perceived as romcom mush, found its way into the hearts of viewers who gave it a go, not expecting an enormous degree of entertainment, but were surprised to find how much they enjoyed it. This was fluff, certainly, but it was pretty cute in its winning way, and provided Hugh Grant with yet another of his romantic leading man roles he really should have been ageing out of, but worked up his accustomed charm to satisfying levels.
However, what is a romcom without the partner in rom? Step forward Drew Barrymore, who by this stage was carving out a niche in the genre herself after previously being a child star, notoriously troubled teen, sexpot indie fixture, and then progressing to a place that suited her fairly comfortably as the sweet leading lady who could be relied upon not to do anything shocking anymore. It was that persona we found her in here, but she made the most of the opportunities in Lawrence's script, probably because she wasn't solely required to bat her eyelashes at Grant and provide some tired old ditsy shtick that she could have been requested to deliver. Her Sophie Fisher character actually had a talent.
No, it wasn't running a second hand bookstore or a muffin bakery or whatever you might expect, it was for writing, which made Music and Lyrics one of those films concerning itself with the creative process. This is a tricky thing to pull off, as usually that process involves sitting at a keyboard and waiting for inspiration to set the mental gears in motion, so it's not too incredible to say it's not the best basis for an amusing story, but Lawrence cannily understood when you have two people doing the creativity, and that couple are falling for one another, then this can be a lot more interesting. Although the writing scenes were not in the majority, they nevertheless were significant, making this a lot better than many a movie with this focus.
Funnily enough, it was a lot better than the biopics you had where actors would portray famous people working out their masterpieces, that kind of thing often elicits groans as they pretend to try to hammer out the notes to some classic tune, yet in this case we didn't know how the song was going to turn out, which added a layer of dramatic suspense. Lawrence wasn't doing anything drastically different, but he was using those tropes in an engaging way, and the eighties nostalgia factor, with Sophie's sister (Kristen Johnson) a fan of Alex's from way back and comically impressed with him, not to mention his low rent concerts where he has to have a sit down halfway through because he's not as young as he used to be, was mined for humour. When Alex and Sophie unite to pen a song for superstar Cora (Haley Bennett), we are also privy to how it feels when something you have made gets taken away from you and refashioned, which many a talent would sympathise with; insight, laughs and a genuinely endearing quality, just what you wanted from your romcom. Music by Adam Schlesinger.