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Music and Lyrics
(Widescreen)

review by Zach B.

 

 

Running Time: 104 Minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Some Sexual Content)

Starring: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Kristen Johnston, Haley Bennet and Campbell Scott

Written and Directed by: Marc Lawrence

 

Studio: Warner Bros.

Retail Price: $28.98

Features: Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, Note For Note: The Making of "Music and Lyrics," "Pop! Goes My Heart" Music Video

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, French Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (24 Scenes)

Released: May 8th, 2007

 

Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant), used to be one part of one of the biggest bands of the 1980's - PoP! But since then, Alex has fallen on mediocre times, using what little fame he has left to pack in the crowds at country fairs. However, Alex is given some chance for redemption when a rising teen songbird asks him to write her a new song. Alex has got the music, but when it comes to lyrics, he needs a bit of help. And that help comes with his replacement plant lady, Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore). Sophie is at first reluctant to work with Alex, but they end up forming a partnership... and of course along the way, learn how to make some beautiful music of their own.

With likable actors and a pretty great (if not entirely original) premise, it's a shame that "Music and Lyrics" falls really short as a romantic comedy (perhaps the public took note - the film received mixed reviews, and had a middling overall gross at the box office - a far cry where Grant and Barrymore have ruled this genre before). I was all the more disappointed since I have enjoyed Marc Lawrence's work in the past - I though "Two Weeks Notice" was a pretty well-rounded comedy, and I was thought the original "Miss Congeniality" was rather enjoyable (which he penned). The movie has the right ingredients, so what went wrong? I think Lawrence's script needed some more time to develop.

They call them romantic comedies for a reason: they are supposed to have romance and comedy, and this film is severely lacking in both. Aside from the film's opening &emdash; a very clever and enjoyable mock 1980s music video - this film does not bring the laughs, or even the smallest chuckles. I understand that this is a mainstream film and isn't supposed to be subtle, but the humor is downright predictable: Hugh Grant is an 80s has-been, and his audience is still middle-aged housewives who still swoon for him! Hilarious! He plays country fairs since he's now "small time" - hysterical! Barrymore talks a tremendous amount about nothing and it gets on the nerves of the characters! LOL! And 80s stars battling on a reality show about boxing? That might sound amusing &emdash; too bad it already happened 5 years ago on Fox with the greatest B-list stars known to mankind. There is no sharpness to the humor at all.

The film also takes some digs at the music industry, but they're more like tiny swipes that don't leave a scratch. I know it's not the point of the film per se, but maybe sneaking in some major stabs throughout would have given the film more of an edge (though the "far out" teen singer is done decently). I really would have liked to see more swipes at the 1980s (even if a lot of that humor has been done in recent years), or at the very least, Grant having some interactions with his former band members. But no, we get development through dialogue on his failed solo career, and very brief mentions of drinking and drugging when he was down and out. There just seems to be a lot of missed potential in what Lawrence could have explored for laughs and possibly story.

Perhaps more offending to the romcom genre is that while as a whole this movie is competent and makes sense, it doesn't have much of a story. Several conflicts arise in the narrative, but they are eerily calm and lack any tension. Nothing is ever felt at stake, and that is a major problem. Of course you know the ending, but how it gets there is entirely unconvincing (let alone realistic, but as we all know romantic comedies live in their own world &emdash; not the real world). What really dumbfounded me is how Grant and Barrymore stay platonic for the first hour of the movie, then all of a sudden are swept up in mad passion, and whatever they have is "threatened" when they have a small disagreement. It's plausible, but not grand - and the audience is supposed to buy into it since Sophie comes across as a bit "fussy." The film's "real" plotline - Barrymore and Grant writing a pop song - does get stretched out through the entire movie. In short, what we really have is one long sitcom. There should have been more stumbling blocks in the road to writing the pop song and then what happens with it - there certainly could have been more.

What makes all this annoying is that writer/director Marc Lawrence spends a good deal of time developing tics for the characters and a lot of background details - Barrymore's pain, why Grant never became a huge music star after the 80s, etc. - but like everything else in the movie, doesn't take them into satisfying directions. Barrymore's backstory, about her former lover who became a bestselling novelist, is pretty prominent but feels rather tacked on (but I guess it helps her "bond" with Grant and thus feeding into their eventual relationship). The movie has a lot of the right pieces, but the puzzle isn't put together correctly. (And if you thought that was a bad analogy, wait until you hear about the metaphors concerning music and lyrics. And most of the lyrics to the original songs themselves. Feh.)

Props though to Marc Lawrence in one arena: giving the audience the expected, but not everything that is expected. The movie's story has so many chances to make all of its characters slimeballs, but they actually all remain decent people - I really appreciated that. I was expecting Grant's character to be a total cad or use the Barrymore character, or have there be some terrible misunderstanding between characters, but no - there is none of that.

Again, I must point out the is pure fiction of romantic comedies - where Grant's only crisis is a vague quest for identity and where he is the only client of his divorced manager. So wait - when there are no country fairs to be had, how does his manager make money? Does he get spousal support? I know, I know. It's fiction. It's a movie. We're supposed to love how unrealistic it all is. (And love the closure provided in the film's epilogue via a Pop-Up Video knock-off, where all loose ends are tied up and we get a very happy ending!)

The acting doesn't do too much. It's bearable, but nothing to elevate the quality of the script. Hugh Grant is on total auto-pilot in this movie: he can give a deadpan delivery, flash a smile and use his charming Brit accent, but that's about it here. Grant's character presumably has an epiphany during the movie, but you wouldn't know it since he plays the same tune throughout. Barrymore does her typical schtick too here: she plays a good-natured neurotic woman who's been hurt by love, has to overcome her insecurities, and all of that jazz. Barrymore is fine and cute as usual, and while she and Grant do have some chemistry, they don't exactly have the heat. It's more like a cute coupling rather than anything resembling passion and sparks.

Faring better are the supporting players. The ever-talented Brad Garrett is Grant's manager, and while he's regulated to a straight-man supporting role, he does shine a bit and gets a few choice quips (it's nice to see Garrett's physical presence in a movie, and not just through his assorted voice over work). But stealing the show is Kristen "3rd Rock From The Sun" Johnston as Barrymore's sister, and an obsessed fan of the Grant character. She's really a lot of fun, and shockingly, her role isn't milked enough. It also shifts without much explanation; from crazed successful mother to straightheaded supportive sister. They might as well have been two different characters. Too bad Lawrence did not run with what could have been a wacky subplot with Johnston doing something nutso involving Grant.

I'm sure there are plenty of you out there who have and will like this movie. It's a light film, and yes, can be considered "cute." I have no qualms about that - I'm all for lighthearted escapism. But to be clichéd, this is pure mass-market kitsch that people latch themselves onto, and will think is perfect and wonderful. If the studios are going for the bucks, that's fine but please... at least give a little more intelligence to these movies if you can. And try comedy, instead out of gags done better elsewhere and years ago.

 

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (a full screen version is available separately), the transfer for "Music and Lyrics" is pretty disappointing. The transfer is really, really soft and looks overly grainy. Black levels are not particularly strong, flesh tones seem a bit muted and detail isn't up to snuff. There is a tremendous amount of edge halos and noise too, which are distracting, and color saturation is pretty unbalanced. The reds in the movie particularly bleed, while the rest of the palettes used are underwhelming - colors seem thinned out and don't pop out. The print used for the transfer is in okay shape, but has some blemishes here and there. I wonder how the upcoming high-definition versions will look in comparison...

 

Your only game in town are 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks, in either English, French or Spanish. The 5.1 mix is pretty decent, given the material. Nothing in the movie is overly discrete. The music video that opens the film gives the speakers a nice little bounce, and Adam "Fountains Of Wayne" Schelsinger's score is nicely mixed too. The subwoofer isn't used much either, but there a few subtle surrounds that add a little zing to the experience. Also packing some punch is the concert scene for the film's climax and finale. You won't exactly feel like you're there, but it does add energy to the proceedings. Everything is mixed fine, and nothing overpowers anything else. Dialogue is crisp and easy to hear, too.

Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish, and there's English closed captioning via your television too.

 

There's not too much in this department. You do get a few Deleted Scenes, shown all in one reel and decent non-anamorphic widescreen, and lasting a little over eleven minutes. As usual, they probably wouldn't have added much to the movie, but given how I wasn't too impressed by the film, I was caught off-guard in how some of them are a bit amusing - most of them showcase the comedic talents of Hugh Grant and Brad Garrett (there's a big sequence involving Grant and Garrett at a restaurant, with Garret's daughter). Some of the scenes seem to be alternate takes, or extensions of what is in the final cut. A commentary or introduction would have been nice to put them in more perspective.

There's also a Gag Reel, which has a few choice takes of the cast cracking up and cursing (and is in anamorphic widescreen). And if you want to see the film's hilarious opening Music Video ("PoP! Goes My Heart") without any of the film's credits stuck in, but in non-anamorphic widescreen, you can view it as a separate feature.

That leaves the most significant extra of all, Note For Note: The Making of Music and Lyrics. It's pretty fluffy, but still makes for an okay watch. As usual, you get a lot of on-the-set footage and clips from the movie, and interviews with the main cast (Grant, Barrymore, Garret, Kristen Johnston, Haley Bennett) and the crew (writer/director Marc Lawrence, co-producer Scott Elias, costume designer Susan Lyall, vocal coach Michael Rafter). There's a lot of self-congratulatory stuff in this featurette (Grant can dance and sing! Barrymore's a great team player!), all while introducing the characters and explaining the plot. You won't learn much (the meatiest bit is the movie's musical focus), but it seems like everyone liked making the movie.

 

Unfortunately, "Music and Lyrics" is not much of a romantic comedy. Given the caliber of its stars and all the missed potential, it's really quite a shame. As far as a DVD goes, it isn't too much. The transfer is disappointing, and there isn't a ton in way of extras. If you are curious it's an okay diversion; otherwise for those who want to own the movie I'd suggest waiting for the retail price to drop a bit before picking it up.