Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Elusive "Good" Movie

Right after college, I spent a couple of years working at Blockbuster Video, and though I'd been a semi-pro critic since I was a sophomore, I never felt comfortable recommending movies to customers. I still don't, really. Taste is so subjective, and I'm the first to admit that the movies I like aren't always for everybody. I don't mean that in a snobby way, either. I would never hold it against my favorite aunt that she wouldn't be inclined to like, say, The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu. And I hope my wife's professor friends don't hold it against me that some of their favorite recent art-house films–Babel, Notes On A Scandal, Little Miss Sunshine–don't do much for me.

Still, there were a handful of movies on the Blockbuster new release wall 14 years ago that I was happy to pass on to someone looking for a "good" movie. Because I think I know what they meant be "good." Something new–had to be new–with a twisty story, likable characters, a light tone and not too much violence or sex. (But not a kid's movie. Or a cartoon.) It also needed to be something I enjoyed, so I could avoid my usual dodge when a customer asked me if some movie I hated was "supposed to be good." (I'd bite my tongue and say, "Yep, supposed to be," and hope they wouldn't ask if I'd seen it myself.)

During my Blockbuster days, I pointed many a customer to My Cousin Vinny, which was kind of the "good" movie ideal back then. I also liked to push Diggstown, a cool little Michael Ritchie-directed boxing/con movie with James Woods and Lou Gossett Jr., and Class Action, a nifty Michael Apted-directed courtroom drama with Gene Hackman and Mary Elizabeth Mastraontonio. None of those movies are "great" by any means (though I could make a strong case for Diggstown). But they were smart, and entertaining, and satisfying in a way that blockbusters and art films alike often aren't.

In recent years, some of my favorite "good" movies have included Galaxy Quest and Red Eye. To that list I'll officially add Music And Lyrics, which I saw over the weekend. Marc Lawrence's direction is largely unspectacular from a visual perspective–and borders on incompetent at times–and his slight story of a has-been pop star falling in love with his flighty amateur lyricist stops well short of being as profound and moving as it could be. But the situation is fairly novel, the plot takes a couple of unexpected turns, and the performances by Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant are really bright.

I especially want to single out Grant, whom I suspect played at least some part in shaping his role. Like the character he played in About A Boy–and in Lawrence's Two Weeks Notice, for that matter–his over-the-hill hitmaker in Music And Lyrics just wants to cruise along, getting maximum rewards for minimal effort. But he's not a hothead about it. There are several scenes in M&L; where Grant urgently wants Barrymore to do something other than what she's planning to do, and while the lines he recites are every bit as desperate as the situation requires, Grant doesn't get too worked up. He almost sounds like he's kidding.

Again, I don't expect to give Music And Lyrics a lot of consideration when I'm making out my best-of list at the end of '07. But I'd be happy to see it again, just about anytime, if only to tap my toes to Adam Schlesinger's soundtrack and to savor the quirky interplay of Barrymore and Grant. And if I were working at a video store three months from now, I'd eagerly pass it off to customers. "Try this," I'd say. "It's good."