Let us agree that romantic comedies are the Hershey's kisses of movies and that the '80s duo Wham! is the caramel corn of pop.
But don't prejudge Music and Lyrics. More substantial than a sugary treat, this crunchy rom-com with Hugh Grant as a has-been popster and Drew Barrymore as a never-was poet (they collaborate on a hit song) is simply irresistible.
A half-sweet/half-acid satire of the music industry (and, also, of movie romances), M and L observes how the dimpled ditz and the caddish charmer alter each other's chemistry. Just what Dr. Romance ordered.
The film opens with a sidesplitting '80s-vintage music-video starring PoP!, one-hit wonders singing their bouncy ditty, "Pop! Goes My Heart." (This send-up and the rest of the movie's new tunes, all frothy fun, were written by Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger.)
There's Grant as Alex Fletcher, face smooth as a newborn's bottom and hair moussed and mussed into a mullet, hip-thrusting to drum-machine rhythms like Andrew Ridgely of Wham!
Jump-cut to Alex Fletcher 20 years later. Having faked his way to the middle, PoP!'s lesser half now is content to be a bottom feeder playing the state fairs and high school reunion circuits. Ambition? Less than zero. (Dissipation becomes Grant. The more debauched he looks, the funnier he seems.)
So when a pop sensation who dances like Shakira and sings like Britney asks Alex, whom she idolized as a kid, to write her a chart-topper, Mr. Minus is nonplussed.
Alex can't abide the pretentious lyricist he's assigned to work with. (His nostrils quiver as if at the odor of rancid butter.) But Sophie (Barrymore), the hypochondriacal girl subbing for Alex's plant-waterer, proves herself a wordsmith whose lyrics are a good fit with Alex's tune. In essence, Sophie waters Alex's withering career.
Writer-director Marc Lawrence (who previously worked with Grant in the delightful Two Weeks Notice) is himself a wordsmith whose one-liners are a taser to the funny bone.
If you're in the need of laugh therapy - and who isn't? - I heartily prescribe Lawrence's Two Weeks Notice. Likewise the Miss Congeniality movies he wrote. Ditto Forces of Nature, for which he also furnished an offbeat screenplay. I like how he pretends to faithfully follow the rhythm of a romantic comedy and instead sneaks in unexpected cadences.
The characters in Lawrence comedies are not entirely ruled by their hormones. He's droll; she, a doll. It's mutual appreciation that sparks mutual attraction and propels the plot. They don't want to get into each other's pants; sex for them is about getting into each other's heads.
Grant is rakish fun as the cynic who continues to be amazed that his former celebrity continues to eclipse his current failure. And Barrymore, ever charming as an apparently wifty free spirit, proves to possess the gravity and idealism that stabilize the helium-lightness of her costar.
The two generate more heart than they do heat, but that's the point. You want to see them together not just because they're adorable, but because you believe that their characters can take each other to a place neither could get to on their own.
Like his own Two Weeks Notice (and distant kin of Neil Simon's They're Playing Our Song), Lawrence's Music and Lyrics is as much a workplace comedy as it is a romance.
With Brad Garrett on hand as Alex's manager and newcomer Haley Bennett as a rump-wriggling pop-tart named Cora, this catchy film skewers music-industry conventions while it re-wires the rom-com.
Produced, written and directed by Marc Lawrence, photography by Xavier Pérez Grobet, original music by Adam Schlesinger, distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 mins.
Alex Fletcher. . . Hugh Grant
Sophie Fisher. . . Drew Barrymore
Cora Corman. . . Haley Fisher
Chris Riley. . . Brad Garrett
Rhonda Fisher. . . Kristen Johnson
Parent's guide: PG-13 (sexual candor, mild profanity)
Showing at: area theatersEndText