I don't know that Drew Barrymore has ever been as charming as she is in the best moments of Music and Lyrics. With her auburn ringlets, baby-doll eyes, and sunny demeanor, she could be a modern-day Jean Arthur, and there's the barest kernel of a classic movie comedy here worthy of her, with Hugh Grant and his roguish good looks serving as a respectable Joel McCrea stand-in.
Grant is Alex Fletcher, a "has-been" second banana from popular '80s band Pop (pitched as a cross between Duran Duran and Wham), whose lead singer has gone on to solo stardom while Alex, who wrote the group's music, is now on the state-fair and high-school-reunion circuit.
One novel element of the movie is that it presents this low-rent segment of the pop landscape not as a sad fate but as a worthwhile mechanism for presenting music to people who get joy from it. "The audience was older, as was I," Alex says of his new career, "but we really appreciated seeing each other again."
With his meager share of the pop marketplace dwindling ("There are new old bands going on tour all the time," Fletcher's manager, played by Everybody Loves Raymond's Brad Garrett, informs him), Fletcher is thrown a life preserver of sorts when pop star Cora (a Britney/Christina type) offers him a chance to write a song on her new album, but on a tight deadline.
Alex's problem is that he writes music, not lyrics. But his potential salvation comes via a meet-cute with Sophie (Barrymore), who is sent by his plant-care service to tend to his household vegetation but ends up being a frustrated writer with a flair for rhymes.
That's a lot of heavy lifting to set up Grant and Barrymore as songwriting partners, but the payoff is mostly worth it. When the pair is stuck in his apartment with a piano and a legal pad, trying to match lyric to melody, or argue about the relative merits of each over breakfast (including a righteous tribute to Smokey Robinson), Music and Lyrics works. (It helps that the song they're writing turns out to be pretty good.)
But like so many contemporary Hollywood comedies, Music and Lyrics doesn't trust its audience (or itself?) enough to keep it smart and light in the classic Hollywood tradition. The charm of the central conceit gets sidetracked as the plot gets more convoluted, and the movie begins to pander with bits of broad comedy and contemporary pop references. But there's still a generously funny and romantic core here.
Music and Lyrics
Opens Wednesday, February 14th