Not Quite Working

There are a lot of projects that work on a lot of levels but kind of fall apart as a whole. Or maybe they work but leave you feeling unsatisfied or maybe you just wish they would work a little better. This week I watched two movies that I enjoyed but that left me thinking, hmm, if only…

Music and Lyrics is a romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. At one point I went through a phase where I was completely fed up with Hugh Grant. If I'd met him I would have suggested he get an acting coach to teach him how to keep his hands out of his hair, because let's face it, dramatically running your fingers through your hair when you're stressed out shouldn't be the pinnacle of your acting abilities. But those days are past and I've long been an admirer of his ability to say very dry comic lines with grace and timing. He has plenty of opportunity to display this talent in Music and Lyrics as his dialogue is quite funny.

He plays Alex Fletcher, a has-been pop star now making his living playing county fairs, reunions and amusement parks. When Alex is offered the opportunity to write a song for singing sensation Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), with the possibility of performing at Madison Square Garden with her, he jumps at the chance. Unfortunately for him, he can write lovely melodies but his lyrics lack a little something, so he settles down to write a song with a depressed, cynical lyricist who really doesn't want to be working in pop music. Along comes Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), whose only purpose at Alex's apartment to take care of the plants, and starts making up her own lyrics while she's caretaking.

Alex spends the next bit of the film trying to enlist her as his lyricist despite her reluctance, which is based on a subplot I didn't quite understand. Sophie had a relationship with a best selling author who used her as a character, portraying her in a very negative light. He's now going around telling everyone Sophie used him, sleeping with him to get published, which makes no sense to me as a) she isn't published and b) sleeping with an author isn't going to do a thing to get you published. You have to, yanno, write well enough that an editor/publisher thinks they can make money from your work. This is the part of the film that didn’t work for me; the part about Sophie's life being wrecked by this man and her fear of success because she'll just get more attention when she's had plenty, all bad.

The rest of the movie offers enough entertainment that I could overlook the parts that didn't work. The interplay between Sophie, who takes her new job as a lyricist very seriously, and Cora, who wants to add loads of sex and Eastern mysticism to the new song is charming and funny. Kristen Johnston is terrific as Sophie's sister, who runs a weight loss clinic and has a major crush on Alex. Brad Garrett is also very good as Alex's somewhat awkward but supportive manager, Chris Riley. Music and Lyrics may not have been worth the small loan you have to take out to go to the cinema these days but it's well worth the price of a rental, or a download or putting in your queue, or however it is you fetch your movies these days, you high tech guru you. The trailer is at the official website, where you can also build your own 80s glam band.

The second movie we watched was Big Nothing, a black comedy crime caper starring David Schwimmer and Simon Pegg. David Schwimmer is an actor I usually take care to avoid. My understanding is he wants to leave his Ross from Friends character behind, but every time I see him he's playing a part where he's confused, whining and depressed so I don't know how well that's working out for him. Simon Pegg however, I like enough to make up for at least two or three co-stars I can't stand, so I gave this one a try, figuring I could always turn it off.

David Schwimmer plays Charlie, a teacher who has had to stop teaching because of a disability and gets a job at a terrible call center where the reps ask questions like, "Are you sure your monitor is turned on?" There he meets Simon Pegg, who plays Gus, another call center employee who has a plan to make a lot of cash quickly, illegally and without violence. They're going to blackmail a reverend who has been visiting an illegal website but the plans becomes more complicated when Josie (Alice Eve), a former teen beauty queen, wants in. Things spiral even more out of control when Charlie makes an emergency change in the plan and hustles over to the reverend's house to stop Gus, only to find the reverend's body and no Gus. Charlie panics and hides the reverend's body in the septic tank and looks for Gus, who tells him the reverend isn't dead at all, only unconscious after Gus bopped him in the head with a lamp to settle him down.

The rest of the movie is filled with exactly the type of dark humor and twists and turns we expect from a caper film. There are stellar cameo performances from Mimi Rogers and John Polito, who is nearly unrecognizable in a pair of coke bottle glasses. But, while enjoyable, the film never really gels and when it was over I was disappointed. It was kind of like eating Brussels sprouts when you really want a turkey sandwich. You're left with a bad taste in your mouth and you're still hungry. The trailer can be found here.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Sophisticated Sophomore who has this to say about the new meatball sub at Arby's, "The commercials make the meatball sub look good but it is disgusting. It's soggy, gross, mushy and flavorless. It tastes like cardboard that has been left out in the rain. Don't ask me how I know what that tastes like." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.