Hugh Grant teams up with writer-director Marc Lawrence again (after Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics and Did You Hear About the Morgans?) for romantic-comedy The Rewrite. Ryan Pollard finds out if it works…
The Rewrite is a romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant as Keith Michaels, a messed-up writer that once bagged an Oscar for penning his regarded masterpiece “Paradise Misplaced”, who’s now divorced and estranged from his son, and decides to leave Hollywood to take up the opportunity to teach screenwriting at a college in out-of-the-way Binghamton, NY. Michaels has become a chauvinist slimeball (with a broken heart, typically) and is now creepily bedding a student with daddy issues. Unsurprisingly, Allison Janney’s Professor Mary Weldon (described as a “humourless Jane Austen scholar”) wants him run off campus, but surprisingly and more bafflingly, Marisa Tomei’s happy-go-lucky single mom/grad-student sees something special within him, which doesn’t make her want to slap him… what a mystery.
There is a germ of an idea that works quite well, but the problem with The Rewrite is that it’s ultimately not as funny or as consistent as it needs to be. This is Grant’s fourth movie collaboration with writer-director Marc Lawrence, the most recent being the laugh-free abomination Did You Hear About the Morgans?, which could and should’ve been a relationship ender there. This is better than that, but that’s really not saying much. Grant is perfectly capable of playing a sleazeball-type character, and at the beginning of the film, his character is someone who’s out-of-his-depth, being a slimy misanthropic and somewhat misogynistic. Grant does perform all that really well, but the movie then loses its confidence and decides that it needs to be schmaltzier and sugar-coated, and Marisa Tomei’s character believes that people can change and life can be positive and full of second chances, and that’s what the movie ultimately becomes about.
From a personal point of view, that’s when it becomes much less interesting for me, because that inevitably leads to the typical redemption story and it was so much funnier when Grant was being the shlubby, nasty misanthrope, and it’s almost like as if the film didn’t really know how to portray him like that so, consequently, it totally loses its nerve and tries to change him into something other than that. Plus, Allison Janney has a somewhat unfortunate role and she seems sadly wasted, which is not a good thing considering she was CJ from The West Wing.
With its top-notch supporting cast from people like Janney, Tomei, and mainly the scenery chewing JK Simmons, The Rewrite couldn’t be entirely unlikable, it does boast several early laughs (well, actually four chuckles and a snort) and Grant certainly knows how to deliver a line, but the writing could’ve been a hell of a lot sharper than it was. I wish Richard Curtis was on hand to deliver “a rewrite” that was better… and crucially funnier. Plus, the film shouldn’t have been so schmaltzy and contrived as it was towards the end, where it proved Janney’s character was right that he should be run off campus and sacked.
Overall, it’s not bad, it’s definitely better than Did You Hear About the Morgans?, and Hugh Grant is still a very funny comic actor with range, but it remains at best disposably flippant and, frankly, Josh Radnor’s completely enjoyable Liberal Arts is Kick-Ass/Citizen Kane by comparison.