The King of the Backseat Blowjob gets mildly post-ironist on your ass
You can do anything if you try. You must always be yourself, and never compromise. And it’s OK to start out in sweats and jeans as long as you end up in Dolce & Gabbana.
OK, except for that last one, the preceding paragraph was a total crock. Most of the things we would like to do we can’t do, no matter how hard we try. And if you don’t compromise, you don’t live. But D&G do beat s&j every time.
That’s why it’s best to approach the moral and message of Hollywood’s latest attempt to strike romantic comedy gold, writer/director/producer Marc Lawrence’s Music and Lyrics, in a spirit of selective acquiescence. The film, drawing heavily on When Harry Met Sally and Lost in Translation, with hints of The Cactus Flower, There’s a Girl in My Soup, Sex and the City, The Bandwagon, and Sullivan’s Travels, not to mention A Hard Day’s Night and even Bringing Up Baby, is not a classic, and it gets shamelessly soggy towards the end, but it’s still the best romantic comedy I’ve seen since Monica Lewinsky was a virgin.
Music and Lyrics is the story of Alex Fletcher (Grant), co-leader of Pop!, one of the hottest boy bands of the eighties. Naturally, we start off with a lovingly ridiculous Pop! video, segueing conveniently into a “behind the music” lowdown explaining that while Pop!’s other leader, “Colin,” went on to a fabulous solo career, Alex, along with the others, slid into obscurity. We then do a little segueing ourselves, to a conference room where Alex is being pitched re “Battle of the Music Has-Beens.” Alex isn’t proud. He’s a professional. He doesn’t care what they call him as long as it gets him on the tube. But when he learns that he’ll be boxing instead of singing, he puts his foot down. Look at this face, goddamn it! Do you think these features were made to bleed?
Alex has a showdown with his apologetic, good-guy agent Chris Riley (Brad Garrett),1 in his apartment, which frankly bears no resemblance to a former boy band dude’s swinging bachelor pad. For one thing, there’s furniture — black leather Le Corbusier chairs and a gleaming black grand piano. For another, it’s in the Big Apple, not L.A. Furthermore, there’s the way Alex talks, like a gent rather than an ex-Trogg.2 And it’s clear that Alex is a gent. He responds to the infinite quotidian insults that descend on the hapless head of a no-longer-A-list dude with a self-deprecating wit that ranges somewhere between La Rochefoucald3 and Billy Crystal. Knott’s Berry Farm? He’s there. Busch Gardens? Not a problem. If wiggling his forty-something butt for the delectation of forty-something housewives can excuse him from the burden of earning an honest living, not to mention facing that hydra-headed beast known variously as “reality” or “middle age,” he’s on it.
Something has to puncture this well-heeled, self-indulgent bubble, and that something is plant girl Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), leaning way too heavily on the Goldie Hawn thing, wearing painfully unchic “I’m a ditz” rags. She’s not the regular plant girl, of course, and she crashes around, doing ditzy things, talking a mile a minute, splashing water all over everything and pricking herself on a cactus spine, causing her to split. Frankly, we’re glad to see her go. Everything about her screams “I’m gonna change!” Well, change, girl! Give us something to look at!
In the meantime, Alex has a date with destiny, the best news he’s had in a long time. Cora Corman (Haley Bennett),4) Britney, Christina, and Lindsay all rolled into one, had a huge crush on him when she was, hmmm, two, and she wants to meet him! And when she does meet him, she has the coolest idea! She just broke up with this guy, and they had been going together for two whole months, and she is so hurting! If Alex could only write one of those great songs, like the ones he used to write for Pop! Then they could do it live in three weeks for her Madison Square Garden Show! Is this chick a sweetheart or what?
So everything’s copacetic, except for one little detail: as a composer, Alex was only really comfortable working with Colin as a lyricist, and Colin, well, he’s moved on. So Chris comes up with a substitute lyricist who, surprise, surprise, is a total asshole, a Henry Rollins type with less talent and more attitude. Fortunately, Sophie’s back, doing her plant thing, and she naturally tosses off a line that fits perfectly, and, after about ten minutes of cute she admits that she can write, well, sort of, just a little, you know, just poetry and oh a novel or two, but it’s nothing, no big deal, you know. So anyway she finally agrees to give it a shot. Along the way we get some fabulous shots of the Big Apple skyline, some of it from Alex’s balcony,5 and we also catch Alex’s act, twice, once in some sort of theme park,6 and once at a Class of 1987 high school reunion. Once has to give Grant credit for busting his fanny in these sequences, popping one semi-arthritic move after another, as the gals go wild and the husbands sulk in the corner.
As the song moves to completion, we get some pretty heavy backstory from Sophie. Apparently she came to Noo Yawk to write the Great American Novel and fell madly in love with her totally cool, totally talented creative writing teacher, but their mad, passionate affair was interrupted by the arrival of his fiancée. Bummer! But what turned mere pain into nightmare was his National Book Award-winning novel, based on their affair, picturing her as a lewd, trashy, manipulative no-talent who almost destroyed the life of a true man of letters.
The plot gets surprisingly serious at this point,7 equating pop tunes with “serious literature.” Doesn’t the perfect pop tune — “I got sunshine on a cloudy day,” for example — give you a lift, a pleasure in life, that equals, or even surpasses, the heavy stuff? Well, “I got sunshine on a cloudy day,” isn’t bad, but it’s no “Avenge O Lord, thy slaughtered saints,” or “That is no country for old men,” or “Call me Ishmael.” Let’s not push it, kids.
Of course, they have to end up in bed, or rather under the piano, and it’s great. In the morning, Alex steps out on his balcony (he has a balcony!), showing off a seriously buff torso and even flashing a reasonably competitive hipbone. Elizabeth Hurley, eat your heart out!8)
Once the tune is written and a demo tape created, there’s a mad dash to catch up with Cora before her chopper heads west. They catch up with just in time, and she likes it! She really likes it! It’s a go, baby!
Alex and Sophie head out for a fancy dinner with Chris and his date. At this point, the sophistication meter, which has been showing serious Upper East Side tendencies for some time,9 kicks into the stratosphere, because the tune we hear at the restaurant is “Flying Home,” by the Bennie Goodman Sextet, circa 1941, with Charlie Christian on the guitar.10 Not too surprisingly, Sophie’s big-shot novelist/bête noire walks in too, and she’s shattered, but Alex, following her into the ladies’ room (this is always funny), decides it’s time for some crash therapy. He shanghais Chris’ date, who agrees to swap her stunning red ball gown for Sophie’s less than glad rags so that Sophie can confront the SOB in style. And, with heavy prompting from Alex, she does confront the SOB. Alas, the best-laid plans of former boy band dudes gang aft agley, and the SOB outfaces her. She’s a pathetic, malicious, no-talent bitch, and he’s a respected author. Sophie’s ten-thousand times more crushed than before, and when Alex tries to get physical with the schmuck, he gets his ass kicked in an entertainingly maladroit collision of less than alpha male dudes.11
You think it can’t get any worse? Well, it does. Cora decides the song needs another chorus. Naturally, Sophie has to get all high hat, and refuses to cough up another syllable. Less is more, goddamnit! I refuse to compromise my artistic vision!12 I’m not going to end up an old phony like you! At this point, we’re obviously staggering toward the finish line. Alex gives Sophie a lecture, telling her she really is like the girl in the book, which really isn’t true, but what he means is that when push comes to shove she goes and hides in the corner, clinging to her lovable ditz role, afraid to be a winner. He isn’t being true to himself? No, she isn’t being true to herself!
So Sophie does give him another chorus, but that’s it. She never wants to see him again. But her wacky sister Rhonda (Kristen Johnson), a huge, huge Alex Fletcher fan, drags Sophie to Cora’s Madison Square Garden concert (because her kids are huge, huge Cora Corman fans). And Alex comes out and Cora gives him a solo, to sing a song he wrote all by himself, music and lyrics,13 and it’s to Sophie! Waaaaaah! And so Alex gets a huge, huge ovation from an SRO MSG crowd, Sophie and Alex are reunited, and the film ends with close-up after close-up of happy, glowing faces. Alex is happy! Sophie is happy! Cora is happy! Alex’s agent is happy! Sophie’s sister is happy! Sophie’s sister’s kids are happy! I think even Sophie’s husband is happy!14
OK, I could have done without that. It would have worked better if Cora had fallen for some obnoxious hulk and then just blew off Alex and Sophie entirely. You guys are so old! Leaving them to work out some sort of, you know, mature lifestyle together, working the supper club crowd instead of the teenyboppers, kind of a Sex and the City thing. But since Music and Lyrics is a general release picture instead of HBO, that doesn’t quite happen.
Hugh G. does a very nice job updating Cary G. in this flick, working the “I’d like to get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini” thing to a T. And I never thought I’d say this — at least, I can’t remember ever thinking that I’d say this — but Drew Barrymore is awfully cute as Sophie, but the script lets her down. Sophie is too predictably ditzy in the beginning, and then when we get to know the “real” Sophie, she’s not entirely in focus. Yeah, she’s “serious,” sort of, but what about? Haley Bennett doesn’t quite project the supreme entitlement and menace that one associates, however unfairly, with bubblegum divas, but she does flash a well-chiseled fanny at her big show,15 so who’s complaining?
- There are so many good-guy agents in films these days. Just like real life! [↩]
- The Troggs, not a boy band, who were two-hit wonders in the late ’60s with “Wild Thing” and “Love Is All Around,” made Ringo Starr sound posh. Hugh Grant comes by his upper-class accent honestly. He went to the Wetherby School, also attended by Princes William and Harry, the Latymer Upper School (founded in 1624), and Oxford. [↩]
- La Rochefoucald classic: “A woman can control her desire, but not her desire to arouse desire.” [↩]
- I had to go to Teen People to catch up with Haley. She had to lose 10 pounds for the role! She wants to sing her own songs! She hates spaghetti! (Apparently, Haley auditioned for Music and Lyrics when she was 16, but she’s 19 now. Has M&L been in the can for a year or two? [↩]
- Alex has a view that I, along with about 7.997 million New Yorkers, would kill for. [↩]
- OK, I wasn’t paying perfect attention. [↩]
- This is the Sullivan’s Travels part. [↩]
- What’s Liz been up to recently? Dunno, but I’d fuck her, regardless. (Late-breaking news! She’s married! Well, I’d still fuck her. [↩]
- Actually, Alex’s apartment seems to be on the Upper West Side, if my grasp of Big Apple architecture has not fallen entirely to pieces. [↩]
- Christian, who died at 24, virtually created the electric guitar as a solo instrument in jazz and some sixty years after his death is still regarded by many as the greatest ever. When asked about jazz guitarists, Thelonious Monk said “Charlie Christian spoiled me for anyone else.” [↩]
- This battle of the upper-middle-class males is about ten thousand times more realistic than the punch-out that concludes Bridget Jones’ Diary, during which Grant and Colin Firth spend about twenty minutes knocking each other through plate glass windows. [↩]
- She’s also pissed at the “erotic Buddha” routine that Cora has worked up for the number. [↩]
- As a sign of authenticity, Alex’s lyrics don’t scan too well, but this isn’t pushed to the point that it’s actually funny. [↩]
- Also, I think a cool, fat black guy who works for Cora is happy. I mean, everybody is happy! [↩]
- It ought to be well-chiseled! The suits made her lose 10 pounds! Dead models, so what? What’s it going to be, kid, Hollywood or high school? [↩]