I saw Music and Lyrics on the airplane a few days ago. It’s cartoonish in the usual Hollywood romantic comedy way. Hugh Grant’s character (Alex Fletcher) especially is too much of a chameleon, changing color from pathetic to sexy to serious at the plot’s convenience. But it’s true enough to the music and has enough real tenderness to be a lot of fun. I liked the bit about setting things on the piano—Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore) does it constantly—even a watering can, and people have been shot for less—and Alex scampers up every time to move the stuff somewhere else. It’s a wonderfully economical way to show what a middle-aged musician he is and how impulsive and oblivious an outsider she is, and the fact that he never says anything speaks to his laissez-faire generosity of spirit, too. Other details didn’t ring as true, like the prefab snobby lyricist who pops up now and then to show how genuine Sophie is.
The music was right on target for the story—unapologetic pop but with signs of real craftsmanship, especially in “Way Back Into Love,” the song that’s at the center of the plot. What stood out for me was the way the two-bar intro riff is turned into the four-bar hook—the note that the riff lands on is displaced, forcing the phrase to continue and sucking the listener into that continuation. Maybe that’s a case of craftsmanship that’s a little too obvious, but it seemed like just the right thing in a movie that’s about songwriting.
If you’d like to get a peek into the mind and life of a songwriter without a trace of Hollywood fluff, rush out and get Jimmy Webb’s book Tunesmith. He’s the real deal.