Music and Lyrics (PG)

When parodies go pop
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The Independent Culture

This spoof of the Eighties pop song genre serves to remind us how delicate and unstable a material parody tends to be. In trying to get the laugh, it is generally a nod and a wink that will work better than an elbow in the ribs. An obvious point, you might think, but even past masters of the form can miss it.

The song that kicks off the romantic comedy Music and Lyrics is judged pretty much to perfection, a chirpy number entitled "Pop Goes My Heart" that conjures the tinny tunefulness of a 1980s hit record. It also helps that the band performing it is called PoP, and sport the ruffs and quiffs and eyeliner of the Spandau/Duran era. Twenty years later, Alex (Hugh Grant) - the Tony Hadley of the band - is a minor has-been reduced to working the nostalgia circuit at school reunions and amusement parks. Now a comeback is in the offing if he can compose a duet for a Britney Spears-alike, the drawbacks being that he a) hasn't written music in 10 years, b) hasn't written lyrics in his life and c) has to finish it by the end of the week.

Enter Sophie (Drew Barrymore), a literature student on the rebound from a writer who used her life as inspiration for his best-selling novel and then dumped her. Alex thinks she might be the Bernie Taupin to his Elton John, and together they try to work up a song that will make their fortune. It's rather pleasantly done, and surprising, too, given that writer-director Marc Lawrence's CV includes dismal romcom twaddle like Miss Congeniality and Forces of Nature. This time, Lawrence has happened upon a subject that seems to mean something to him, and at one point I hoped that the chemistry between the fledgling lyricist and the former pin-up might spark off some competitive friction - A Star is Born for the Pop Idol generation, perhaps.

Alas, the film isn't that risky, and the romantic obstacles thrown in the couple's way feel a little perfunctory: it might have been fun if Campbell Scott, as the nasty novelist, had been awarded more than one scene. But Grant and Barrymore are troupers at sustaining the charm. Grant does especially well out of the partnership, his Brit-out-of-water act still disarmingly sprung with self-deprecation. When she expresses surprise at his "sensitive" nature, he replies: "That's because I wear incredibly tight trousers - it forces all the blood to my heart." I also like the way his ironic pragmatism keeps deflating the pomposities of the "biz". Asked what his "inspiration" might be as a songwriter, he muses: "Whatever gets me the job, really." Barrymore is shortchanged by the screenplay, but she's adorably game and sweet, even when she can hear Grant getting most of the good lines. It's an endearing confection, light as a feather and about as memorable, unless you count the hook of "Pop Goes My Heart", which, I guarantee, will be the very devil to dislodge once it's in your head.

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