Remember Andrew Ridgeley? He was the other guy in Wham!, the one who found himself stranded in 1986 after George Michael had faith enough in his own talent to break up the act. Ridgeley went on to record one solo record before the label decided, yeah, no need for a second. In Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant plays Alex Fletcher—”the other guy in Pop!,” an ’80s new wave act that counted among its hits a ditty called “Pop Goes My Heart.”
After releasing one failed solo album, Alex, still squeezing into tight trousers and singing the oldies, has gone on to a dispiriting life of county fair and high school reunion gigs. Living comfortably on royalties, he’s also resigned himself to the thoroughly adequate life of “a happy has-been.” If nothing else, “it really takes the pressure off,” he tells TV producers pitching him on the idea of a boxing show in which the likes of Adam Ant and Billy Idol punch themselves further into oblivion.
After getting Alex’s backstory out of the way in the first 10 minutes, writer-director Marc Lawrence, who directed Grant in the insufferable Two Weeks Notice five years back, foists upon his film a rather preposterous meet-cute that renders a promising premise about comebacks and rare second chances predictable and innocuous. Alex is offered a job writing for pop star Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), a Shakira stand-in whose affinity for Hinduism is about as genuine as her blond hair. Cora wants Alex to write the last song on her album—and, of course, he has less than a week to do it. Alex finds a collaborator in his (yeah, here it comes) interim plant-watering lady, the hypochondriac Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), a moon-June-spoon kind of gal who provides Alex with just the grade-school poetry he needs to compose that last-second hit single. (Barrymore, so adrift of late in bar-code romantic comedies, has little to do here but click-click-click her pen, make eyes at Grant, and fall into a funk whenever she spies a photo of her ex.)
Music and Lyrics suggests that it’s going to be about redemption, the second act in the life of a punchline, but it feels as though it were made to fit a date on a studio’s release schedule. (Happy Valentine’s Day!) Oh, well, at least the songs are catchy, and the two-tone video for “Pop Goes My Heart” is inspired, as Alex, his hair moussed to high heaven, dies of a broken heart on an operating table, only to have his soul mended by the cool touch of a hot nurse. The thing would have played nonstop on MTV in 1984, which is about when the rest of this movie looks like it was made.