Hugh Grant plays his usual, but this rom-com lacks in both rom and com.
Hugh Grant goes with rom-coms like teenage girls and vampires. Like eggs and bacon. Like Hall and Oates. Like Kirk and Spock. You get the idea, pick a Valentine’s card, put Hugh Grant’s face on it, commence swooning. He may be getting a bit older and a bit less believable as the dashing, stuttering, male lead he’s become famous for playing, but well, if we know anything about Hollywood, it’s that the men are allowed to get older as long as their female love interests stay just as young. The Rewrite, the latest from Music and Lyrics and Did You Hear About the Morgans writer-director Marc Lawrence, does have a young love interest—AND a very age-appropriate love interest as well in the form of Marisa Tomei. But where the film bores isn’t in its coupling—indeed that only serves to make us quite nostalgic for an A-game Grant and Tomei rom-com that never was—instead it’s the film’s trite plot and over-gimmicked characters that would have amused ten years ago and are now too overplayed.
The Rewrite isn’t your usual rom-com, and that’s because it isn’t actually a rom-com. Not in the strictest sense of the genre. There’s sexy time, and single people, but no one is actually pursuing anyone in this film. Instead we have Hugh Grant playing washed up screenwriter Keith Michaels, his Oscar-winning hey-day long over, struggling to sell any of his ideas for a film. Producers want sexy female action films and he’s showing his age pitching nostalgic retrospective pieces. He begs his agent for a job of any sort and she suggests a teaching gig at an upstate New York college. He’s above such things, but when his electricity gets turned off he unsurprisingly rethinks the offer.
Upon almost instant arrival to his new gig Michaels makes the immediate mistake of shacking up with a student, impressing her with tales of his award-winning career. As a prospective for his screenwriting class, Karen (Bella Heathcote) gets into his class of course, but Michaels has a hard time shaking her off when he’s told that professor-student relationships are—surprise, surprise—strictly forbidden and grounds for dismissal.
Oblivious and narcissistic, Michaels picks almost his entire class based on their Facebook profile pictures. Which means older student Holly Carpenter (Marisa Tomei) doesn’t make the cut, she with two daughters, just trying to finish her education, and happy to simply receive some feedback from Professor Michaels on a script she’s written.
After proving how ill-fit he is for academia when he offends a fellow English department professor (Allison Janney) by (in an almost too naive way) poking fun at Jane Austen, Michaels finds himself on thin ice and, with no actual teaching experience, not especially sure what he’s doing. The middle of the film drags somewhat as Michaels begins to connect with his students, understanding more about them through their writing and letting them lead the class discussions to create the illusion he’s actually teaching. He and Tomei have a few candid conversations during office hours and around campus where she snoopily (though with a believable amiability) inquires into his personal life and offers advice around his estrangement to his son.
Additionally, his prying but friendly neighbor Jim (Chris Elliott) and the department head Dr. Lerner (J.K. Simmons) serve their particular purposes acting as Keith’s one-dimensional friends teaching him life lessons in accepting his life’s progression into an older man with a new career. Teachers might be slightly offended by the implications that not only do those who can’t do, teach, but that it’s not particularly requiring of talent.
The film ends predictably, though not believably, but this film never boasts believability as a goal. The title confused me at first, as Michaels doesn’t actually do any writing in the film, a more sentimental person had to point out it must refer to him rewriting his own life. There aren’t enough eye-rolls in the world. Altogether, I give credit to Tomei and Grant, who really do make a great pair with a believable chemistry. I only wish this script had opted for a rewrite as they are never allowed to be much more than friends until a rather awkward shift at the very end. Me-via-1999 was beyond disappointed in the lack of heart-swelling I felt, and modern me was just annoyed at how calculable everything felt.
Marc Lawrence has either lost some of his romanticism or hasn’t quite figured out how to allow it to age with his protagonists, not to mention the modern sensibilities and expectations of today’s audiences. Here’s hoping he figures it out, as he’s clearly very talented, as are both Grant and Tomei who I will gladly watch on-screen anytime. I hope someone thinks to put them in another film together, and this time give them something to bite into.
The Rewrite has a limited New York City theatrical release February 13.