Saturday, June 23, 2007

Music and Lyrics -- yeah, the movie

I recently saw the film Music and Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Sara and I wanted something without teeth, after Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth.

The movie, which is bad of course and we did not expect otherwise, is an interesting case study of why conflict is necessary for a good film. One of my in-laws, who has children, complained that Finding Nemo was awful because it was far to intense -- every scene is some major conflict. She wanted to know why there had to be so much. Maybe there could have been less, or at least a pause, but given that all screenwriting books emphasize the need for conflict you can understand why movie-makers err on the side of terror. Go the other direction, and you end up with something like Music and Lyrics.

Hugh Grant plays a has-been 80s pop star -- basically the other guy in WHAM -- who is hired to write a song for a new pop star, basically Britany {edit -- this was spelled wrong the first time I posted}; he needs someone to write lyrics and finds Drew Barrymore, the girl watering his plants. They fall in love.

The main problem with the film is that Hugh Grant is such a great guy: he is kind, tries to make his old fans happy, has accepted that he will never be a superstar, plays Dance Dance Revolution with Barrymore's niece and nephew. He has NO problems as a result of his previous stardom. The whole movie I kept expecting the barrier to his relationship with Barrymore -- this is a romantic comedy after all -- will be that he wants to date women half his age, or was afraid of commitment, or cheats. But the film does not introduce its main conflict until well into the third act -- it turns out at the end that his character arc is that he needs to learn to be ambitious, he needs to stop accepting his has-been status. The romance is secondary -- she cannot accept him until he tries to be more than a has-been. The problem is that his has-been status is not a problem for him -- show him humiliated on a show where he has to box Dustin Diamond (he turns down the chance to be on a show like that actually), something. Otherwise you spend the whole film watching two nice looking people meeting, writing a popular song together, having sex, falling in love and then retroactively learn there was a conflict in the film moments before it was solved. This would be like a murder mystery that just showed people getting along for the first hour and a half and then suddenly they find a dead body and figure out who killed him moments later.

Or as a friend of mine put it about Good Will Hunting: "I am not paying money to watch the story of a boyishly good looking super-genius and his supportive girlfriend and teacher."


neilshyminsky said...

This is really neither here nor there, but... it's spelled "Britney", Geoff. Don't ask me why - I just assume that's how they do things in the south.

Jason Powell said...

Commenting just to correct spelling, Neil? Oh, how pedantic. :)

Geoff Klock said...

Neil: all fixed. I think I may be proud of not spelling her name right.

Jason: :)

Velva said...

Hmmm... we got this from Netflix last weekend and saw it with three 15 year old girls. We found it enjoyable, but we might have felt gypped had we paid good money to see it in theatres.

It did feel like a skit that played too long in some places, but I disagree about the lack of conflict because Drew Barrymore's character had issues aplenty. Hugh Grant played a kinder gentler version of the guy he played in "About A Boy," but I think that he specializes in likable guys who have no real conflict until someone comes wandering through and attempts to change their world view.

Matt Brady said...

I haven't seen the movie, but your comments intrigued me. That is, the bit about the lack of conflict. I actually find that pretty interesting when movies try to do that, maybe just having conversations between characters. Sure, it's different, and maybe it only appeals to nerds like me, but I like it. There is usually some sort of conflict that eventually shows up, but if a movie is well-written and the actors are appealing, I can enjoy just spending time with them. Some examples might be Slacker, or Before Sunrise, or Coffee and Cigarettes.

Oh, and your comment about the murder mystery reminded me of the movie Gosford Park, which actually had a plot kind of like what you describe. Of course, there was conflict aside from the murder, with tension between the upper-class and lower-class characters, but I thought it was funny that you almost seemed to be talking about that specific movie.