Directed by Marc Lawrence
Opens February 13
Marc Lawrence has directed four features to date; all of them are rom-coms starring Hugh Grant as a well-off urbanite. In Two Weeks Notice (2002), Grant’s a real-estate tycoon who falls for his new chief counsel (Sandra Bullock); in Music and Lyrics (2007), he’s a faded pop star who writes a song with the charming girl (Drew Barrymore) who waters his plants; in Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009), he’s a lawyer trying to win back his wife (Sarah Jessica Parker); and in The Rewrite, Lawrence’s new movie, he’s Keith Michaels, a past-his-prime Hollywood screenwriter who travels cross-country to take a teaching gig at Binghamton University. One gets the sense that Lawrence and Grant will stop working together once the former has run out of ideas for swanky professions with which to match his favorite actor.
Across these movies, Grant has practiced a bumbling, stammering comic persona: his principal physical moves include pleading hand gestures, hunched-forward hesitations, and lip-licking pauses. These tics reached a kind of atrocious apex in Morgans, in which Grant scrambles so hard to land each joke that he hardly ever appears to be making actual eye contact with Parker. His register is complemented much more satisfyingly by Barrymore’s mellow, down-to-earth presence in Music and Lyrics—still Lawrence and Grant’s fleetest and most winning endeavor.
In theory, The Rewrite’s pairing of Grant with the breezy Marisa Tomei (as a student/single mom/waitress/bookstore clerk) is ideal, but the surrounding details sour the movie. Lawrence, surprisingly for a real-life Binghamton graduate, provides an awfully regrettable depiction of college life: Keith’s LA-to-campus town trek is treated—like the Manhattan-to-Wyoming journey of Morgans—with a condescending, this-place-is-lame attitude. (The sideline characterizations are also problematic: the most talented student in Keith’s class is a perpetual sneezer who tells Keith, “I aspire to nerd.”)
Grant’s character is out of whack, too: his comments at a faculty party paint him as a cracked misogynist—an impression that’s confirmed when he chooses his class roster according to how attractive he finds the social-media photos of potential students. Considering that Grant—now 54 and graying—often seems tired throughout the movie, as if he were sick of his own shtick, these off-putting character traits might have at least made for compelling psychological viewing. But Lawrence softens the man up, leaving precious little for Tomei to do in the process. Danny King