'Music and Lyrics'

Comedy's catchy, but not classic

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"Battle of the '80s Has-Beens." It sounds like a pitch for a TV show that Jay Leno would describe and then ask the audience, "Sold or not sold?"

Warner Bros. Pictures
Drew Barrymore portrays Sophie Fisher and Hugh Grant is Alex Fletcher in "Music and Lyrics."
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'Music and Lyrics'

Starring: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore.

Director: Marc Lawrence.

Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content.

Web site: musicandlyrics.warnerbros.com/

In the romantic comedy "Music and Lyrics," opening today, it's the fate awaiting a fading 1980s pop star named Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) who once was part of a music sensation called PoP! Think Wham!

An old music video shows tight pants, Flock of Seagulls hair, checkerboard backdrops and the corniest of story lines. Years ago, his singing partner split for a sensational solo career, while Alex now grubs for gigs at high school reunions, state fairs and amusement parks, where small knots of giddy women of a certain age crowd the stage.

He professes to being a "happy has-been," but even his nostalgia circuit jobs are drying up. His luck may change when a young pop diva named Cora (Haley Bennett), cut from the Britney-Christina cloth, invites him to write a tune for her.

Cora supplies the title and the deadline, just days away, and Alex sets about trying to find a lyricist because he can supply the music but not the words. One inadvertently comes knocking at his door in Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), the "plant lady" who arrives to tend the greenery in his apartment.

"Music and Lyrics" tracks the unlikely writing partners and the effect their collaboration has on their lives and those in their circles, including Sophie's older sister (the very funny Kristen Johnston), Alex's manager (Brad Garrett) and a man from Sophie's past (Campbell Scott).

"Music and Lyrics," written and directed by Marc Lawrence, whose credits include "Two Weeks Notice," starts and finishes strong, thanks to its ability to nail the sorts of sounds, sights and pop-ups that once flooded MTV and VH1.

A recurring tune, written for the film by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, is so catchy and fizzy that it will effervesce through your head as you drive away. The material between the brilliant bookends, however, is more uneven -- and let's not even ask why a man with a half-dozen or so plants needs to hire someone to water and fertilize them.

A movie in which the leads have to write, whether it's a book or a song, can be deadly dull, which is why the characters have to take lots of breaks and do supposedly funny things along the way.

Grant, whose dancing has become standard comic fodder since "Love Actually," sings and plays the piano like a pro. This role plays to his strengths, allowing him to capitalize on his boyish good looks, toss off sarcastic or self-deprecating asides and juggle scenes comic and dramatic.

As she did with "The Wedding Singer," "50 First Dates" and "Fever Pitch," Barrymore brings sweetness, vulnerability and ability to be slightly but not hopelessly ditzy to her leading lady.

The chemistry between Grant and Barrymore is passable but not sizzling. The story needed more nods to then than now, but it doesn't push the limits of its PG-13 rating and will make a perfectly fine Valentine's Day pick.

It's like a bouquet of carnations. Lovely and long-lasting, but nowhere near as memorable as roses or orchids in a color that will take your breath away.

Post-Gazette movie editor Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls" also opens today. It stars Gabrielle Union (Perry is writer/director) and is rated PG-13 for thematic material, drug and sexual content, some violence and language.


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