Low Note

Remember Andrew Ridgeley? He was the other guy in Wham, the one who found himself stranded in 1986, after George Michael had faith enough in his own talent to break up the act. Ridgeley went on to record one solo record. His label decided there was no need for a second. In Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant plays Alex Fletcher — “the other guy in Pop,” an ’80s new-wave act that counted among its hits a hammy-and-cheesy ditty called “Pop Goes My Heart,” the excruciatingly spot-on video of which we see at the film’s beginning and end.

After releasing one solo album that sold a mere 50,000 copies at a discounted price, Alex, still squeezing into tight trousers and singing the oldies, has gone on to a dispiriting life of county fair and high-school reunion gigs. Living comfortably in Manhattan on royalties and pity-party paychecks, Alex has also resigned himself to the thoroughly adequate life of being “a happy has-been.”

Grant, just barely singing the phony pop songs of Fountain of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, looks like the right man for the job of washed-up pop star. He still suggests a man pretending he’s 15 years younger than his birth certificate in order to get the girls and justify the wide-open collar and hipster jewelry, but there’s a weariness smeared across his face like yesterday’s lip gloss and eyeliner. Then he opens his mouth and becomes instantly less believable.

Writer-director Marc Lawrence, who directed Grant in the insufferable Two Weeks Notice, foists upon his film a rather preposterous meet-cute, featuring Drew Barrymore, that renders a promising premise about comebacks and rare second chances predictable and innocuous. Music and Lyrics is like everything else on the radio now: negligible and forgettable.

Alex is offered a job writing for pop star Cora Corman (rookie Haley Bennett), a fan who wants Alex to write the last song on her album. Of course, he has less than a week to do it. Alex finds a collaborator in his interim plant-watering lady, the hypochondriac Sophie Fisher (Barrymore), a moon-June-spoon kind of gal who provides Alex with just the grade-school poetry he needs to compose that last-second hit.

Barrymore has little to do here except make eyes at Grant and fall into a funk whenever she spies a photo of her ex, a college prof turned writer named Sloan Cates (Campbell Scott), who has turned their affair into a best seller.

The movie feels only partly finished, as though it was about something else before Grant and Barrymore were hired to fill in the blanks. But at least the songs are catchy. The two-tone video for “Pop Goes Your Heart” is inspired, even: It involves Alex, his hair moussed to high heaven, dying of a broken heart on an operating table, only to have his soul mended by the cool touch of a hot nurse. The thing would have played nonstop on MTV in 1984, which is about when the rest of this movie looks like it was made.

Categories: Movies