Writer-director Marc Lawrence's dispiriting romantic comedy is a formulaic exercise in mismatched characters doing stupid things to delay the moment when they fall in love, then doing more stupid things to temporarily derail their budding romance.
In Lawrence's modern-day fairy tale, New Wave prince Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) of the one-hit wonder band PoP has been reduced to playing high-school reunions and amusement-park side stages for suburban moms who thought he was dreamy back when they were teens. Neurotic Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), the substitute "plant lady," bursts into his poky apartment in a flurry of dithering, then flees after pricking her finger on a cactus she probably shouldn't be watering anyway. Dewy Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), an overproduced pop tart whose mix-and-match persona combines lap-dance shimmy and faux-Zen flakiness, is the fairy who could return Alex to the spotlight. But he must prove himself worthy by crafting a song to her exacting specifications — a duet that fits the title "Way Back into Love," can be ready in a matter of days and pleases her more than the offerings of other desperate has-beens. A facile composer of blandly commercial melodies, Alex can't write lyrics. Sophie can — at least, she has a knack for spontaneously composing pop platitudes — but she's been traumatized by the publication of an unkind roman a clef by the pompous novelist (Campbell Scott) with whom she studied writing and had an ill-advised affair. Alex persuades Sophie to give collaboration a try, and the romantic moves — one step forward, two steps back, repeat ad infinitum — begin.
The drama comes from their disagreement over Cora's vision of their silly love song as a tween-friendly hoochie number with exotic Indian accents. The comic relief is supplied by Alex's sad-sack agent (Brad Garrett, of TV's Everybody Loves Raymond), who really needs his only client to make some money, and by Sophie's married sister (Kristen Johnston, of TV's Third Rock from the Sun), a bossy diet entrepreneur who is still nursing a high-school crush on Alex. What charm the movie has is almost entirely due to Grant and Barrymore — the master of smarmily irresistible self-deprecation meets the sweetly vulnerable queen of awkward self-sabotage. While they have no romantic chemistry, they're certainly appealing. Assistance comes from the dead-on pastiche of '80s music videos that introduces Alex and his cheesy hit "Pop Goes My Heart." It's much catchier than the song he and Sophie spend the movie writing.
Maitland McDonagh leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh