Well, my dear readers, it’s been quite a while since I posted anything here. Between one awful cold and a big move, I felt a break was needed.
But since I’ve recovered from both those real life invasions, let’s get back to the business of critiquing with this RomCom double feature.
If reviews are to be believed, lately romantic comedies have been quite the suckfests. Unlikeable but beautiful people try and fail to convince us that they are worthy of a ‘happily-ever-after’ moment. Or we get a story about a deep friendship between two dudes that’s clearly only written for men.
It’s a bit bleak out there for men AND women, so let’s take a look backward at two modern romcoms that both succeed (to a point) but don’t necessarily leave us with bad feelings.
First up: “13 Going on 30″
I’ve liked Jennifer Garner for a long while now, but mainly because she brought such depth to her role as Sidney Bristow on “Alias.” In a lot of ways, I wish she would ditch movies and head back to TV where the better roles are, but hey, that’s her choice.
Here she stars as Jenna, who we meet on her thirteenth birthday. She’s an eager-to-please wannabee swept up in the quest for popularity, which includes letting the middle school queen bee walk all over her (hey, we’ve all been there, right?).
But after a disaturous birthday party, Jenna makes a wish to be done with childhood, and thanks to some magic dust, she’s suddenly 30 with a dreamy boyfriend, a life in the city and her dream job of magazine editor.
Not unlike Tom Hanks in “Big,” Garner skillfully pulls off a kid in an adult’s body (and unlike “Big,” this film sidesteps the creepy sex scene). Yeah, she acts strange, but she manages to fake it enough that I could buy the people around her wouldn’t notice the change.
But once Jenna tracks down her childhood friend Matty (Mark Ruffalo), and he gives her a rundown of all the years she missed, Jenna begins to come to grips with the person she has become (and that that person kind of sucks).
To give credit where it’s due, the writers are smart enough to force Jenna to deal with what’s she’s wrought, and she’s not rewarded for her bad behavior (an alarming rarity in entertainment of late).
“13 Going on 30″ has the intelligence to deliver a believable story about time travel and its consequences, but unfortunately, that’s where the intelligence stops.
Not to give too much away, but Jenna’s adventures at her job are not only unbelievable but also laughably bad and poorly written. I guess a little research into the goings on of a fashion magazine was too much to ask for, which is really a shame; with Garner’s easy charm and winning smile, she almost carried this movie into that sweet spot of winning romantic comedies.
But fortunately for us, the folks at “Music and Lyrics” fared a lot better.
Hugh Grant stars as Alex, a former pop music god who during the 80s was a member of Pop, a band that had some hits but broke up when their lead singer/songwriter Colin decided to go solo.
Flash forward twenty years later, and Alex is making a good (but not great) living off his former glory, playing state fairs and high school reunions, etc. He’s happy enough with his level of moderate fame, but when super-popular starlet Cora Cormen (Haley Bennett) asks him to write her a song, he’s grateful for the chance.
But when he remembers he’s not a lyricist, in walks Sophie (Drew Barrymore), a quirky but delightful woman who demonstrates a talent for witty lyrics.
Yeah, you already know where this is going. They spend three days madly working on this song and also tentatively falling for each other. Where “Music and Lyrics” really succeeds is in its portrayal of the music industry. The film opens with Pop’s video of “Pop Goes My Heart” that manages to lovingly capture both 80s music and 80s music videos. That song, and the song Alex and Sophie create, is one I could easily see myself listening to down the road.
But none of that would matter if we weren’t invested in the characters, and damn if both Grant and Barrymore didn’t win over this prepared cynic. It’s an old formula, but Grant and Barrymore know how to bring these somewhat thin characters to life and make us root for them.
There’s nothing groundbreaking or shocking about “Music and Lyrics,” expect how good this formula film ended up being.
So, what’s our theme this week? Knowledge is power – it’s what allowed “Music and Lyrics” to soar and the lack of such that doomed “13 Going on 30″ from being only half good.