Watching “Music and Lyrics” is like watching an exceptionally good cover band imitate Wham! or Duran Duran. They’ll manage to hit all the familiar notes, but there won’t be any surprises or any sound that’s not already on your CDs at home.Just as you can tell when the chorus comes as someone else is singing a song you know by heart, it’s simple to follow and even get ahead of the storyline in “Music and Lyrics.”
Hugh Grant stars as Alex Fletcher, a one-time member of the 80s hit making combo PoP. Unlike the band’s other lead singer whose career has skyrocketed since the group’s demise, Alex has been lucky to croon for nostalgic middle-aged women at state fairs.
Fortune starts to shine on him when a young, popular Britney Spear-ish pop star named Cora Corman (real life teen singer Haley Bennet) requests that he write her a new tune.
Needing the cash, Alex can hardly say no, but his gifts are strictly melodic. The rest of the band wrote all the words. He also has to produce something quickly before another nostalgia act gets the gig.
After trying his luck with a professional lyricist, he discovers that Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), the scatter-brained woman who waters his plants, can come up with snappy wordplay almost automatically.
Their collaboration, however, is almost as maddening as it is magical. Sophie can get easily distracted, and Alex is willing to hurt the integrity of a song if he can get a quick sale.
“Music and Lyrics” proceeds down a flat and curiously uneventful path. The budding romance never really sizzles, and writer-director Marc Lawrence (“Two Weeks’ Notice”) shortchanges come of the comic potential. Had Sophie’s creative blocks and personal quirks or Alex’s humiliation with being a flash in the pan been emphasized, the film might created some comic tension that’s missing in the final film.
Lawrence may not have wanted to alienate viewers from the potential lovers, and the film coasts on Grant and Barrymore’s appeal. Grant has just the right sense of resignation with his fate as a musical industry cast off and delivers Lawrence’s often clever quips with aplomb.
Curiously the music in “Music and Lyrics” seems oddly lackluster. Fountains of Wayne and Ivy member Adam Schlesinger manages a convincing imitation of 80s hits, complete with all the bouncy synth tunes. Careful listeners might even hear former ABC vocalist Martin Fry helping out on the singing.
That said, except for their ability to sound 80s, the tunes aren’t all that memorable or catchy. The music isn’t likely to send viewers running out to download the soundtrack.Then again, I could be wrong about this. Roger Ebert to this day regrets stating something similar about Simon and Garfunkel’s tunes in “The Graduate.” Note: This review originally appeared in CountyCable.net.