Music and Lyrics

Music and Lyrics: The Last Great Hugh Grant Rom-Com

Dept. of Popping Hearts


The premise of Music and Lyrics is relatively uncomplicated. Hugh Grant plays Alex Fletcher, a has-been ’80s pop star (think the sadder, less successful half of Wham!, or Gary Barlow, or any of those guys from One Direction who aren’t Harry Styles), who is asked to write a song for the pop diva Cora Corman (Haley Bennett) – who is allegedly hotter than Britney and Christina put together (for all you kids reading this in 2022, they were the Ariana and Dua of their day). It is his one chance for a big comeback and all he needs is a good lyricist. Enter Drew Barrymore’s Sophie Fisher, the woman who waters his plants, who also happens to be a somewhat prodigious rhymer.

Their unlikely pairing leads to what we’ve come to expect from most rom-coms. They collaborate, find each other, fall in love, fall out of love, before eventually falling back in again. There’s not much more to the movie than that. But where the movie succeeds is in the way it smartly taps into everything that is Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. His deprecatory charm. Her intense likability. All of it makes for an incredibly pleasurable watch.

Music and Lyrics celebrates its 15th anniversary this Valentine’s Day and that gave us the excuse we needed to rewatch and review what might be the last great Hugh Grant rom-com.

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: The rom-com isn’t dead. God knows we get more of these movies now than ever before. They’re so cheap and relatively easy to make that every streamer has a pretty well stocked stable of them. Most of them are immediately forgettable. They’re purpose, merely to fill 90 minutes of your time as you try to distract yourself from work and life.

At the time, Music and Lyrics wasn’t all that well received. People – both audiences and critics – called it “nice” and “sweet.” The movie came out towards the tail end of the modern rom-com boom and, by that point, most of us had already seen it all. We were tired. Maybe even a little jaded.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This movie doesn’t break any new ground. It doesn’t even try to shake things up with some absurd premise. But what I think a lot of people failed to see at the time, what elevates this movie beyond just being “nice” and “sweet,” are some truly inspired decisions by writer/director Marc Lawrence. The casting. The songs. Some meaningful asides on the nature of stardom. And the incredibly astute observations about the trajectory of pop music. This one has a lot more going on than meets the eye.

Bahir Yeusuff: I think what has really become clearer in the 15 years since Music and Lyrics was released is that maybe “nice” and “sweet” isn’t a terrible thing to aim for. I am in no way saying that this movie is just “nice” and “sweet.” I absolutely agree with what you said about Marc Lawrence’s prescient observations. But after having to watch some of the so called rom-coms that have come out recently, Music and Lyrics being “nice” and “sweet” is also just perfect.

Hitting the Roms and the Coms

Music and Lyrics

BY: I think the rom-com has to be one of the hardest genres around. Like horror, fans of the genre know exactly what the tropes are, and both demand the familiar while wanting to be surprised at the same time. So it’s always a balancing act between deciding what to give in to, and what to change. I think Music and Lyrics does this spectacularly well which is evident in just how entertaining it remains 15 years after its release.

A rom-com needs to have both the rom and the com in equal measure. I dare anyone to watch Music and Lyrics now and not be entertained. Be it the slightly goofy musical stylings of PoP and Alex Fletcher. The much-too-much Cora Corman and her hit songs. (“Entering Bootytown.” “Buddha’s Delight.” Genius.) Or just the absolutely delightful Drew Barrymore. this movie hits all of the roms and the coms more than competently.

UA: Hugh Grant is great in this. He knows exactly what we want from a Hugh Grant rom-com and he gives it to us. He stutters. He’s bashful. He’s self-deprecating. He hits all the right notes. This is like Eric Clapton playing “Layla.” Or Bruce Springsteen doing “Dancing in the Dark.” It’s tried and tested. It’s practised. It’s why all of us are here. Pair that with all of Drew Barrymore’s charm and quirk, and what you get is an odd couple that works remarkably well.

There is no doubt that the both of them carry this movie. It’s their inherent watchability that makes this work as well as it does. Yes, some of the lines are painfully cheesy. Yes, their romance feels a little rushed. But their chemistry more than makes up for a multitude of sins.

The one thing that really did work for me was that inevitable break in their relationship. You know, the conflict that takes place at the beginning of the third act of all of these movies. The crucial moment that will lead to some deep self-reflection and end up defining their love. Here, that fight felt real. It was rooted in a philosophical disagreement and their ensuing argument got personal and mean really fast. Things were said. And I didn’t think they could come back from that. Which is what you want when you’re watching a rom-com. I mean, you know there’s going to be a happy ending. But you still want it to feel earned.

BY: To me that inevitable break in the relationship could only have come from a romance that was rushed. That fight was the both of them seeing and pushing each other’s buttons just because they were there. In that sense, the “rushed” romance was necessary for the fight to happen. And so the payoff was there. It was designed to get to that point realistically because they were doing it under the guise of protecting themselves, and the other person, in some weird, twisted way, was trying to help. 

But you’re right. That fight felt like the big one. The relationship’s first big test and if they can recover from that, they can get through anything. And they did.

Music and Lyrics felt written for Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. The script showed an absolute understanding of who the two actors are and what their voice sounds like. The cute, quirky Drew Barrymore never trips into annoying, and Hugh Grant’s witty Brit never comes off as trying. Sure, great actors can do that, but it also feels like these characters were written as a mirror of the actors that would play them, where they were most comfortable, and what they would be able to perform best.

And that might be my only real complaint. Music and Lyrics is Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant being the best and most Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. And I’ll be honest, if that is my only complaint, I think Marc Lawrence has hit it out of the park.

About Those Music and Lyrics

Music and Lyrics

UA: Which brings us nicely to another thing he hits out of the park. The music. Can we please talk about the music? Because this movie would not have worked if these songs weren’t great.

If you’re making a movie in which one of the protagonists is a washed up pop star from a band that used to be huge, then the songs from said band had better be great. They need to be catchy.. They need to be reflective of a cultural moment. Listening to them, we need to immediately grasp why people loved them as they did.

When this movie opens with a throwback music video to “PoP! Goes My Heart,” I knew that they had nailed it. Their highly moussed looks aside, there was an infectious quality to the song that perfectly captured the obsessions of an entire generation.

Even the song that Alex and Sophie end up penning together works. There was a payoff to that. It’s a tune that belongs in the movie as well as on your Spotify playlist. It’s telling their story. But it’s also just a cleverly constructed pop song.

BY: Even the video to “PoP! Goes My Heart” is immediately recognizable if you grew up during the early 90s and watched too much MTV. It’s Wham!, it’s Spandau Ballet, it’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood. It’s all there in all its cheesy pop glory.

And you’re absolutely right about the song Alex and Sophie write. It’s our one bugbear. If the characters in your movie are writing the next great pop song, they have to actually write the next great pop song. It has to be good. This one is.

Fun fact. If you didn’t already know, the guy who wrote “Way Back Into Love,” the late Adam Schlesinger, was from the band Fountains of Wayne, who were famous for the song “Stacy’s Mom.” Schlesinger also wrote the song “That Thing You Do,” and co-wrote many of the songs from the Josie and the Pussycats movie. So yeah.

UA: I will say this, despite its flaws, that Josie and the Pussycats movie had some real bangers.

Finding Our Way Back Into Love

Music and Lyrics

UA: In its own way, Music and Lyrics is also something of a love letter to pop music. It isn’t saying anything we don’t already know, but there is a freshness when it’s delivered by Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Which I think speaks to how easy it is to get caught up in this movie.

BY: It’s what all good rom-coms do. It isn’t just about the characters in the story. It’s also about the setting. Music and Lyrics is a love letter to pop music as You’ve Got Mail is to the early days of the internet, you know, before the trolls and the creeps multiplied. Sleepless in Seattle is as much about the city it’s set in as it is about Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. All the great rom-coms acknowledge the set up and the setting as being a key ingredient to the falling-in-love process.

UA: I think it’s safe to say that they don’t make movies like this any longer for the big screen. Maybe it’s because of how we’ve changed with regards to what we expect from our romantic leads. Maybe it’s because Hollywood has stopped making mid-budget movie for cinemas. But whatever the case, I think it’s definitely a sad loss for the moviegoer. These days, I can leave the cinema feeling a lot of things. Movies can make me feel hopeful, angry, thrilled, excited, afraid, and inspired. But I honestly can’t remember the last time I left a screening feeling in love.

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