Once part of a popular 80’s boy band named Pop!, Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is now a “washed up” musician struggling to get gigs years after the massive failure of his solo album. He embraces his “has been” status, aware that while he never achieved the level of success as his fellow bandmate and former friend Colin (Scott Porter), he is still able to cash in on his former glory by booking jobs at local fairs and high school reunions. Alex’s luck changes when reigning pop queen Cora Corman (Haley Bennett) reveals herself to be a fan of Pop! and asks Alex to write her a new song called ‘Way Back Into Love’ to help her recover from a recent break-up. Oh, and she needs the song in less than a week. It’s a massive opportunity for Alex, but the problem is, while he has a talent for melody, he has never been much of a songwriter.
His manager (Brad Garrett) sets him up with a lyricist, but their collaboration turns out to be a disaster. Enter his substitute “plant lady” Sophie (Drew Barrymore) who seems to have a knack for writing lyrics. It takes some convincing, but Alex finally persuades Sophie to help him write a song for Cora and the two embark on a collaboration that highlights their individual strengths. It also reveals their approach to creating music, where Sophie sees it as something beautiful and personal, while Alex views it as just a job and a paycheck.
Barrymore and Grant are their usual charming selves and while I wasn’t entirely sure I bought into their quick relationship, they had just enough chemistry to keep me interested. They don’t experience any major conflict beyond their approach to songwriting, which comes to a head when Cora decides she wants to make their ballad “steamy and sticky” so that she can do what her fans love most – dance. Their age difference is never a factor, and the subplot involving Sophie’s former flame and writing professor felt a bit out of place, as if the screenwriters needed something else to drive a wedge between Sophie and Alex.
Hugh Grant was the film’s highlight for me, an aging washed-up pop star with plenty of self-deprecating self-awareness, and yes, you might cringe during his performances for the middle-aged housewives still fawning over him, but the awkward dancing and hip-shaking definitely brings the laughs. Drew Barrymore is adorable and brings a heartfelt performance as Sophie, but her character felt somewhat underdeveloped. Supposedly she inspired her former professor/boyfriend, Sloan Cates (Campbell Scott), to write a book about their relationship, creating a “fictional monster” named Sally Michaels who was only using him to get ahead in her career and tried to ruin his life when he broke things off. But there is nothing about Sophie that remotely resembles this horrible character, and Sophie never really manages to find any closure from this toxic relationship, despite an awkward attempt to confront him about the book in a restaurant.
I also loved Haley Bennett as the “spiritual” Cora (“I’ll show you the roof. It’s upstairs!”) who claims to take inspiration from Buddhism and meditation but also writes lyrics like “Tell me all your fantasies tonight, and I will make them happen, ’cause I’m not satisfied if I don’t get my Buddha’s delight.” It’s a fun skewering of the countless pop stars who have used religion and cultural appropriation to reinvent themselves until the next popular trend comes along (I’m looking at you Madonna and Gwen Stefani). The rest of the supporting characters were pleasant enough, Brad Garrett as Alex’s manager and Kristen Johnston as Sophie’s older sister who harbored an intense crush on Pop! in the 80’s. But what really makes Music and Lyrics so entertaining is the music. We’re treated to a wonderfully awful Pop! music video for Pop! Goes My Heart and the ballad Way Back Into Love remains one of my favorite rom-com songs in existence. There’s also a fun homage to VH1’s Pop Up Video that reveals what happened to Alex and Sophie (and Pop! themselves) during the credits.
Music and Lyrics is not a great rom-com, but it’s sweet and entertaining, and the music alone definitely makes it worth a watch.