After releasing one solo album that sold a mere 50,000 copies at a discounted price, 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. But living comfortably in Manhattan on royalties and pity-party paychecks, Alex has also resigned himself to the thoroughly adequate life of being "a happy has-been." If nothing else, "It really takes the pressure off," he tells TV producers pitching him on the idea of starring in a boxing show in which the likes of Adam Ant and Billy Idol punch themselves further into oblivion. Better to be a former somebody than a never nobody.
Grant, just barely singing the phony pop songs of Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger, is, in appearance, the absolute right man for the job of washed-up pop star. He still looks "about a boy" -- which is to say, like a man pretending he's 15 years younger than his birth certificate in order to get the girls and justify the wide-open collar and hipster jewelry -- but with a weariness smeared across his face like yesterday's lip gloss. Then he opens his mouth and becomes instantly less believable, looking less like Alex the has-been and more like Hugh Grant the actor trying to make heads or tails of a movie that doesn't quite know where to go with his character.
After getting Alex's backstory out of the way in the first 10 minutes, writer-director Marc Lawrence foists upon his film a rather preposterous meet-cute featuring Drew Barrymore that renders a promising premise about comebacks and rare second chances predictable and innocuous. Music and Lyrics is like everything else on the radio now: negligible and forgettable.
The movie suggests it's going to be about redemption, the second act in the life of a punch line. Alex is offered a job writing for pop star Cora Corman (rookie Haley Bennett). Cora's a fan and 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 (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.
Music and Lyrics, which looks like it was lit with two 60-watt bulbs and shot by someone just a touch nearsighted, feels as though it was made to fit a date on a studio's release schedule. Indeed, the whole movie feels only partially finished -- like it was about something else before Grant and Barrymore were hired to fill in the blanks. But hey, at least the songs are catchy.