Ashley: When I first opened the pile of mail sent to ArtsEtc. from our friends at Warner Bros. and found a pass to a press screening of "Music and Lyrics," I could not have been more ecstatic. My thoughts streamed in this exact order: Oh my gosh, Hugh Grant, I love Hugh Grant! A romantic-comedy starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, does this get any better? Wait, AND I can bring a guest of my choice? Oh I know, I'll bring my strong, handsome, yet super-sensitive boyfriend. Ashley, remember, you're going to graduate soon and live a life of solitude with your cats; you don't have a boyfriend. This inner monologue continued for approximately five minutes, because I'm spastic — and extended inner monologues are a favorite pastime of freaks such as myself — but finally I decided on the perfect date to this seemingly perfect romantic-comedy, a man with smooth moves, a sensitive side and impeccable AP Style capabilities: the one and only Tim Williams, Badger Herald copy chief. After days of intra-office war fighting off jealous female co-workers, when the day of our date arrived, I was positively giddy. Tim and I were off to Wauwatosa in my crimson chariot — otherwise known as my Grandma's '94 Taurus — and arrived just in time to find a prime seating location. Before the movie began, I was nervous: Would we split a large popcorn and a soda with two straws? Would there be that defining moment where we both reach down into the bucked at a key, romantic part of the film to grab a few kernels simultaneously, our fingers graze, we look up and giggle with an awkward smile? (OK, I watch far too many romantic comedies). Regretfully, the answer to that question was no, but that still did little to detract from my thorough enjoyment of "Music and Lyrics" and the company during the screening. Although the film did little to set itself apart from your standard issue rom-com, it had just enough of a cheesy "awww" factor to hold my attention. Tim: Perhaps Ms. Voss fell asleep halfway through and dreamed she went to a better movie (and, from her outrageous flattery, with someone else), because the supposed "cheesy fun" is contained exclusively in few- and far-between sight gags and Hugh Grant's dogged determination to lighten a movie that goes down like a spoonful of medicine and molasses. Watching Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore croon ballads that even cracked-out '80s Whitney Houston would have laughed at is too much for a mere red-headed stepchild to swallow. Big hair. Body-length ties. A tuxedo shirt of many ruffles. A drummer who does more stick clicking than actual playing. For the first three glorious minutes of '80s pop music video indulgence, "Music and Lyrics" seems destined for the high camp of such classics of light celebrity toasting as "Zoolander" (from which the movie also steals a "Relax" joke. Twice. I laughed anyway.) Then, "Pop!" The actual movie starts, and there goes any hope of something other than a by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Actually, despite writer and director Marc Lawrence's past formula successes with "Miss Congeniality" and "Two Weeks Notice," it barely manages that. Two decades after his peak as the keyboardist and songwriter of Pop!, Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is chasing the last ember of his former stardom, playing to adoring middle-aged women in high-school reunions and getting pitched for a spot on "Battle of the '80s Has-Beens," which Alex leaps to accept, until he learns the battle in question is with boxing gloves, not instruments. Thus begins the movie's half-hearted attempt to show a washed-up '80s star's inner battle between integrity to his music and his bank account. Resigned, he retreats to his only moderately cushy apartment, only to be struck by the thunderous appearance of Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore). Oh wait, she's just the "plant lady," a job title I'm sure it took years of tireless campaigning by women the world over to achieve. Alex barely takes notice of her, besides her hilariously quirky trait of not being able to water plants, until he learns she has the ability to make up lyrics like "love autopsy" on the spot, which is a good thing, apparently. Alex conveniently has just been asked to write a song to cheer up brat-pop-star-of-the-moment Cora Coorman, whose idea of spiritual fulfillment is a music video in which boy-band rejects dress like Buddhist monks and worship her miniskirt. Various subplots attempt to fill out the still rather wearing 95 minutes, including Sophie's quest to get revenge on a professor who writes a tell-all of their affair (not resolved), Fletcher's manager's (Brad Garret) own romantic troubles (not resolved), Fletcher's best friend and former Pop! leader stealing Alex's music for a solo career (resolved in a VH1 pop-up in the credit redux of "Pop!"). Even the movie doesn't really care about these characters. Ashley: Upon learning that Hugh Grant would be playing the lead role in this film, I could hardly contain myself — and Mr. Grant, the fine English gentleman, certainly did not let down. How could he, really? Over the course of his career, the man has only really played one role, maybe two, and might I add he's damn good at it. I shamelessly butcher James Earl Jones when I say, "If Hugh Grant is in a film, the (especially female) movie-going public will come." (Hey, even my co-writer can be quoted as saying "I can't wait to see Hugh Grant in this new role as a washed-up pop star." Don't try to deny it, Tim.) Either he's the charming, quirky British man who enters to sweep some unsuspecting basket-case off her feet, spouting lines in his delightful accent and shaking his cute butt when he thinks no one is looking, OR he's the charming British man who is initially masquerading as an asshole but eventually shows his softer side. In "Music and Lyrics," he's more of the former, displaying an adequate amount of quirks (read: sleeps on a waterbed in 2007, leaves the management of his amusement park-playing summer tour up to "Everybody Loves Raymond's" Brad Garrett.) and spouting off delightful one-liners (read: discussions of clowns in his bed). My only complaint: the singing voice of Hugh's character, Alex Fletcher, sounds a little too boy band. I love the man, but he's soon to be pushing 50, and his singing double is at a J. Timberlake level, when really it needs to be at about an Elton John, or a George Michael, if we're really talking washed-up pop stars. Tim: While I may not swoon like my counterpart at every hip thrust of Hugh Grant, his patented mix of sly sarcasm and bumbling idiocy is unmatched in the highly competitive world of men who can smile and look pretty in front of a camera. (Hey, it's tough being beautiful, as you can see by our mug.) Drew Barrymore, on the other hand, hit her acting career peak flashing David Letterman 12 years ago. Nonetheless, she makes a serviceable stand-in for the "girl-next-door" charms of Sandra Bullock, who is too busy making equally bad but "Important" movies now, apparently. However, I must admit she made Lawrence's "Miss Congeniality" almost enjoyable, although it might actually be the Shatner-singing that does it for me. Speaking of singing, oh man, did I mention how neither of these clowns can do it? If you can keep a straight face when Hugh Grant (and/or badly matched voiceover) starts moaning, Ashley and I have a couple tunes we'd like you to listen to, too. Ashley: While a chunk of this film's highlights were seen through the clips of the trailer, I must say I enjoyed this latest effort from writer Marc Lawrence. As a member of the singles' club on Valentine's Day, I'd say this film is just the ticket for any loner. Sure, things seem bad, but they could be worse — you could be a washed-up member of an '80s boy band — and even then, you might still find love. What a better way to tell someone you love him or her on Valentine's, or just that you want company in an attempt to feel less alone and sad — if only for an hour and a half — than to take him or her to "Music and Lyrics?" On this highly commercialized day of red roses, chocolates by the carton and stuffed bears screeching about how much they love you, what's a few more dollars spent on dinner and a movie? Ashley Voss is a senior. She received a Valentine's card from her mom and grandma and will probably buy herself some chocolates today. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tim Williams is a junior. If you think he should go back to hiding behind his AP Stylebook, e-mail him at email@example.com.
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