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Music and Lyrics

Music and Lyrics
In rhyme and on time: Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant pen a pop hit.

Alex Fletcher is a washed-up '80s pop star. Luckily, he still has his boyish charms, a perky bottom and a good-natured acceptance of his reduced status. There's cash and cheers to be milked in our compulsively retro culture, so Alex stays liquid and limber shaking his tight pants at amusement parks and class reunions.

We like him already, and thus are pleased when two lucky breaks come his way. First, huge pop-tartlet Cora (Hayley Bennett) solicits Alex (Hugh Grant) to write her new hit song. Alex stumbles -- he's adept with a melody, but crap with words (he once rhymed "you and me" with "autopsy"). But there at his door is substitute plant-caretaker Sophie (Drew Barrymore), who has -- you got it! -- a remarkable facility for rhyming couplets.

In Music and Lyrics, written and directed by Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks' Notice), Alex and Sophie have 36 hours to write Cora's song, fall in love, break up and hopefully get back together. It's a familiar romantic-comedy journey -- from meet-cute to foregone conclusion, but at least for a while, Lawrence makes it fresh and enjoyable.

He opens the film with a gut-buster of a mid-'80s synth-pop video, from Alex's former glory days in the band PoP: the preening and pouting, asymmetrical hair styles, cheesy video effects, video vixens in nurses uniforms -- oooh, it hurts so good. (This video reprises during the closing credits, in the pop-up-video form -- that is, a bit of '00s nostalgia for the '90s nostalgia of the '80s.)

The film's first half is fairly charming. Grant and Barrymore are old pros at this sort of romantic-comedy piffle, and they have an easy chemistry (even though Grant is nearly old enough to be her poppa). Brad Garrett and Kristen Johnson perform ably as the requisite sidekicks, Alex's manager and Sophie's big sister respectively. Lawrence sprinkles in a number of trenchant observations about the celebrity limbo that is the nostalgia racket: His manager warns Alex that "there's new old acts coming up all the time"; Alex, referring to a crowd of still-swooning middle-aged female fans, notes that "we are profoundly glad to see each other again."

But, at mid-point Lawrence adds a poorly developed subplot about Sophie's past failures, and the frothy pop-song of a movie veers into pedestrian singer-songwriter seriousness. Bah! Gone are the quips and giddiness, and suddenly our pair are pining, sighing heavily and committing the unforgivable sin of expressing their true feelings in a ballad.

Ironically, Lawrence's film is a full-on defense of the insipid but glorious toe-tapping pop song. Lively romantic comedies turned turgid are a dime-a-dozen. I wish Lawrence had followed his earlier instincts, and kept the maudlin tunes off this otherwise chipper LP.

Eclipse at Carnegie Science Center
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Eclipse at Carnegie Science Center

By Mars Johnson