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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


In Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant plays Alex Fletcher, a former 80’s pop star in a band called, appropriately, “Pop!” Their big hit was called, also appropriately, “Pop Goes My Heart.” The band went south when Alex’s partner decided he was the star and went solo. (In a way, Alex is kind of like Wham’s Andrew Ridgeley.) His career now consists of state fairs and, when he’s lucky, amusement park appearances. Although it sounds pathetic, Alex is not completely unhappy. He recognizes that fans still show up, happy to hear those old songs they love.

His fortunes turn when a Britney-esque singer named Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), known as much for her revealing costumes and suggestive gyrations as for her music, announces that she wants to work with one of her idols – and her idol just happens to be Alex Fletcher of Pop! Cora fancies herself a deep thinker, and she provides Alex with a title (“A Way Back Into Love”) based on a self-help book she has read. His job is to write a song using that title and then perform it with her during a concert at Madison Square Garden. The hitch is that he has only a week to get the tune ready. Eager to reestablish himself as a force in the music biz, Alex eagerly agrees to the challenge.

Having never been able to write words to accompany his catchy melodies, he is forced into collaboration with an edgy lyricist. That proves unsuccessful, but Alex’s plant lady, Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), has a knack for coming up with a catchy twist of phrase. He immediately tries to enlist her help. Sophie, suffering from low self-confidence, is reluctant to try, but her sister Rhonda (Kristen Johnston) is a major Pop! fan and talks her into it. In the process, Alex and Sophie begin to fall in love. That attraction is tested by numerous obstacles, including Cora’s demanding ways and Sophie’s ex-lover (Campbell Scott), who has written an unflattering best-seller based on their fling.

Music and Lyrics is a pretty easy movie to sum up. There’s nothing particularly deep about it; the film is intended as a breezy romantic comedy, and it works at that level. Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant both do here what they do best: Barrymore is lovably, adorably ditzy, and Grant hilariously spits out one sharp-tongued witticism after another. Yes, they’ve both played these notes before, but seeing them do it together makes everything feel fresher. The stars are the definition of romantic comedy chemistry. I really believed that these two characters might fall in love with each other. This is not just another case of big names being paired up. Instead, the pairing is inspired.

I laughed a lot at the movie. It is surprisingly knowing about the pop music scene, and it finds a lot of humor in the notoriously fickle style. The opening is a spot-on parody of cheesy 80’s music videos (with Grant in full Duran Duran/Flock of Seagulls mode). Later, we see Cora filming a sultry video for a song called “Entering Bootytown” that makes Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” video look positively wholesome in comparison. Implicit in this satire is the idea that pop music has lost its innocence. What once was hip inevitably becomes cornball or, just as often, evolves into something rooted in shock value. Writer/director Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks Notice) lovingly satirizes what pop music means to each new generation.

One of the other reasons Music and Lyrics works is quite subtle: the song Alex and Sophie write is actually pretty good. It could be a hit in the right hands. If the song had been terrible, I think the movie itself would have suffered. Because it works, the story has a real foundation to build from. We really do feel that Alex has a chance to recapture some of the glory he’s lost along the way. That, in turn, gives some added weight to the romance.

I have to say right here that you will probably not find a bigger Drew Barrymore fan than me. There’s just something about her work that I find appealing. Sometimes she challenges herself (the underrated Riding in Cars with Boys), and sometimes she’s content to stick with sweet, light, mainstream romantic comedies. Somehow, like the actress herself, those films never come off cynically to me. One gets the feeling that she genuinely cares about giving you a good time. Whenever Barrymore is in a movie, I pretty much know that I am going to see something sunny and entertaining that will make me feel good. Music and Lyrics is not the most original or ambitious movie I’ve ever seen. However, Barrymore is well-paired with Grant in a story that is smarter than you might think. It’s just all-around good fun.

( out of four)

DVD Features:

Music and Lyrics is a fun movie, and the DVD comes with some fun special features. There are approximately ten minutes of deleted scenes, including a very funny one in which Grant’s doorman reads him fake messages from real pop stars. The gag reel shows Grant and Barrymore cracking up during takes and, more importantly, shows that they were having a good time making the movie.

Also included is a 13-minute making-of feature that, among other things, includes interview footage with Fountains of Wayne member Adam Schlesinger, who penned some of the film’s memorable songs. Finally, there is the official “Pop! Goes My Heart” music video that features prominently in the movie. All these features are enjoyable to watch.

Music and Lyrics is available on DVD now from Warner Home Video. If you prefer to own it on Blu-Ray or HD-DVD format, it will be available in those formats beginning June 12.

Music and Lyrics is rated PG-13 for some sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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