The film opens with a music video featuring the rock band PoP, performing their signature song, “Pop Goes My Heart”. Basically, the two main players are Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who plays the piano and sings, and Colin Thompson (Scott Porter), who as far as I remember just sings. The music video, part of which is featured in the previews, is hilarious and very 1980’s, Wham-ish inspired, although to me at least the music seems to draw a little Pet Shop Boys inspiration. Also featured is the “pop” dance move, which involves the hips and becomes a long running joke. The plot of the video (if it can be called that) is a bit confused but basically Alex is in love with a girl, who leaves him, after which he collapses, is presumably rushed to the hospital by Colin, where he wakes up thanks to the beauty of one of the nurses, and all in the room, including the doctor start dancing. Not to short-shift the rest of the band, three other people are featured: Nicholas Bacon as the Bass Player, Andrew Wyatt as the Guitar Player, and Dan McMillan as the Drummer. However, no one but Hugh Grant is seen again until the end of the movie, which we shall get to eventually.
The video ends and an announcer talks about how Colin Thompson went on to achieve great things (lots of hit songs, albums, got knighted) and asks, in a “Where are they now?” tone, “But whatever happened to other lead singer, Alex Fletcher? Well tune-in to Battle of the Eighties Has-Beens to Find Out” (I paraphrased). The whole thing was a promo for the aforementioned show, and was being shown to by two executives (Zak Orth and Brooke Tansley). The male says he expects it to be as big as American Idol, lists off a couple of other people who are taking part (Flock of Seagulls, Debbie Gibson, and I think Tiffany, which Alex says “A bit of a history there” about) and asks him what he thinks. Alex says he’ll do it, and the male seems a bit surprised, saying the other people they’ve approached have been a bit turned off by the “has-been” part of the title, but Alex embraces the term, as he has come to accept it. He then asks how many songs he’ll be allowed to sing, banking on two, and the male stops him, saying he can’t guarantee that any one person will be able to perform. Alex looks a bit confused, and the executive explains that when they say battle, they mean, well, a battle: people will box each other, and only the person who wins will be allowed to sing their bit. Alex seems a bit surprise and not as enthusiastic.
Alex then goes back to his apartment, where his manager Chris Riley (Brad Garrett) is. Chris apologizes about the whole boxing thing, and Alex says he doesn’t really mind, he toured with Flock of Seagulls and thinks he could take them. Chris tells him to forget about it, and shows him a copy of Rolling Stone Magazine with Cora Corman (Haley Bennett), calling her “bigger than Britney and Christina combined.” He then says that she’s eager to work with Alex, that she loves his music and that they have a meeting with her later that day.
At some point in this conversation, I don’t really remember where, the doorman buzzes up that Sophie (Drew Barrymore) wants to come up and water the plants; Alex says that it’s Jane who waters the plants, but Sophie is determined and comes on up. There’s some light banter between the two as she comes in, saying Jane was supposed to have called him to say she’d be doing the watering for a few days, and complaining about some of the other clients she’d seen that day. She takes her jacket and purse off and tries to put them on the grand piano that Alex has, and Alex immediately picks them up to hang; this will happen several times throughout the movie, but the comfort they have with each other during the scene is fairly significant. There isn’t a moment with the two of them staring deep into each other’s eyes or anything to show they’re destined for each other, but they do seem evenly matched. She starts watering the plants, and pricks her finger on the large cactus that Alex has. Alex doesn’t have a first aid kit, and Sophie kind of freaks out, saying she hates infection and has to run, she’ll be back later.
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Alex and Chris go to see Cora, who is filming a music video in New York City (where they are). The description of Christina and Britney put together is not wildly inaccurate (in terms of rather revealing clothes and lasciviousness implications of lyrics), although there’s a bit of Madonna thrown in (with her Kabbalah stage), with Cora’s apparently random conversion to Buddhism, or at least Eastern inspiration. When she’s done with her video (for “Buddha’s Delight”, sample lyric: “Each time you put your lips to mine/ it’s like a taste of Buddha’s Delight”), she’s introduced to Alex by her manager. Cora says she loves his songs, and Alex says that’s there’s a couple he could rework into duets for the two of them. Cora tells him that she doesn’t live in the past, that she wants a new song, and wants the title to be “Way Back into Love”. Alex seems hesitant, and Cora’s manager says they’re in talks with a couple of other people so not to worry if he can’t get it done. Cora says she looks forward to working with him, “It is destiny…or not”, and tells him that she leaves for LA on Friday, so she’ll need it by then. Presumably it’s either Saturday or Sunday, although I didn’t keep track exactly.
Alex and Chris leave, and Alex seems reluctant to do it, as he has not written music for fifteen years and would need a lyricist, and the only person he was ever able to work with was Colin (the more popular member of PoP). Chris tells him that the gigs Alex normally gets, at country fairs and the like, are getting harder to come by, and he should really at least try. He promises to get him a lyricist, someone “edgy, who worked with Avril” (presumably Levine).
The edgy lyricist Greg Atonsky (Jason Antoon) is quite obviously pretty contemptuous of Alex and his PoP history. He’s written him a pretty weird song, which Alex has trouble playing/singing. Sophie comes in, again some light banter, again putting her things on his piano, and then goes into the kitchen to get the watering can. When she leaves, Greg says “She was hot” and Alex answers “Glad you enjoyed her” and moves on. He keeps trying to sing the song, but it obviously doesn’t quite work and Sophie starts humming along, adding another lyric that Alex likes. Greg is pretty angry at that, and challenges Sophie to come up with another line, which Alex is equally fond of. Greg leaves, angry, and Alex asks Sophie if she has ever heard of the band PoP. Sophie says that she has, that her sister was a huge fan and weren’t they the ones with the weird hair? She then realizes that he was a member, and apologizes. Alex asks her if she would want to write lyrics with him, and she says that she’s not a lyricist, the only thing she writes is slogans for her sister’s weight loss store. She apologizes to Alex and leaves the apartment, but he follows her down the hall, asking her to think about it, and saying that he’s performing at the Hilton later that night and she should come by.
Sophie is babysitting for her sister’s (Kristen Johnston) kids, playing Dance, Dance Revolution, and then rushing them to bed when their parents come home. She starts telling her sister about meeting Alex, and that he invited her to go see him sing; her sister screeches that she’s going out and runs to change, not having let Sophie finish her story.
Alex’s performance is at a reunion for the class of ’87 party, and all the middle aged women in attendance cluster around the stage to watch him sing and dance in, well, very tight pants. Sophie’s sister pushes her way to the stage to see Alex up close and all the women seem very enthusiastic to him. He does the “PoP” dance move and hurts his hip, but soldiers on nonetheless and limps off stage. As he’s leaving, Sophie follows him, along with her sister, and they talk for a second, with Rhonda (the sister) asking for an autograph and a picture. She gets in pose with Alex, and hands Sophie the camera, at which point Alex and Sophie start arguing. Well more like bantering; they’re not really angry at each other, Alex begs her to reconsider, saying the only time he’s tried to write lyrics he tried to rhyme “you and me” with “autopsy”, and Sophie says that that could work. She says it could be “Figuring out you and me/ is like doing a love autopsy/ they could operate all day long/ and not figure out what went wrong”, and Alex sees that as proof that she can come up with lyrics. Rhonda starts getting sick of holding her pose, and Chris (Alex’s manager) tries to do it, but still can’t because Alex and Sophie are still arguing. Sophie seems oddly reluctant to the idea, and finally drags her sister away and Rhonda snaps a quite picture of herself with Alex.
The next day, Alex goes to the weight loss place where Rhonda and Alex work and tells her that he will not take no for an answer. He says that he just needs a few minutes of her time, and takes her to a piano store. She continues to protest that she can’t write lyrics to a song, and he says, you already have. He sits at the piano and starts playing, then singing, “Love Autopsy,” Sophie is touched and says the song is really good. We then see them going back to his apartment to get to work.
Sophie tries to figure out what the inspiration for the song should be; she asks Alex what would inspire him to sing it, and he says that whatever would get him the job. They continue to struggle a bit, and Sophie has the tendency to fiddle with her pen when she’s concentrating. They then decide to take a walk (well, Sophie decides) and they walk around for a while. Sophie asks him why “PoP” broke up and Alex says that Colin met a new manager who convinced him that he was the star in the group, so he went off with the last three songs they had written together and put out a solo album, which topped the charts. Sophie asked him what he did then, and he takes her to a music store, where his own solo album is on sale, for $9.99, saying that it had only sold like 500,000 copies, most of them to his mother, and that the reviews were terrible. Sophie tells him she understands what it’s like to live with the shadow of someone else hanging overhead. She draws some inspiration from this and they go back to the apartment to write some more.
The next morning they’re still working (as they need to be done by Friday) and Sophie says she needs to get some breakfast or she can’t write anymore. They go off together, walking down the street talking, and suddenly Sophie ducks into the doorway of a bookstore, as though she’s seen someone she doesn’t want to run into. Alex comes back to get her, and she’s says something like “Oh, I just thought I saw someone I knew, or really, a picture of someone I knew” and then in the window of the store, which is a bookstore, there’s a display of a book who’s title I don’t remember. Alex says something like “You are obviously insane, but for my purposes I need you to be sane, so please explain to me what is going on” and Sophie says that the author of the book, Sloan Cates, was a professor of hers. They were sort of dating, and then his fiancé (who Sophie knew nothing about) returned, and they never saw each other again, but he wrote a book (the one in the window) about a professor who is seduced by a mysterious, scheming young woman so he would get her published, obviously based on Sophie. Sophie obviously admired Cates, and was crushed that he not only saw her that way, but wrote a book about it. Alex convinces her that the best way to get back at him is to write a great song, and they go back to the apartment.
They hang out at the apartment some more, and start moving the furniture around, because Sophie says she can’t write when her chair is so far away from the piano, and Alex can’t write while boxed in by the chair Sophie’s moved and the wall. They go down to the lobby of the apartment to sing the song thus far to Khan, the doorman (Aasif Mandvi, from “The Daily Show”!), who nods along encouragingly, and there’s the scene from the trailer, with Alex singing “I’ve been sleeping with a clown above my bed…wait, clown is not right” and Sophie saying “That’s cloud, why would you have a clown in your bed?” to which Alex responds, “Let me tell you, it would not be the first time”. Khan, by the way, ends up being tone deaf.
Friday comes, and Alex has started laying down tracks (I’m not sure if that’s the correct music lingo, but basically playing each instrument that will be used) while Sophie finishes up the lyrics. Funny scenes when Sophie tries to get his input while he’s trying to play all the music, but finally he’s done with that and just has to add his own voice. He pulls Sophie in front of the microphone to do the demo, saying that it’s a duet between a man and woman and they’re the closest they’ve got. They sing “Way Back Into Love” (Sample lyric: “I’ve been living with a shadow overhead/ I’ve been sleeping with a cloud above my bed/ I’ve been lonely for so long/ Trapped in the past I just can’t seem to move on”) and then rush to where Cora is about to take off for LA. She takes the CD they’ve just recorded and listens to it right there, in front of the helicopter. She’s absolutely still and silent for a while, listening to the song, and then goes over and hugs Sophie, then Alex, and says that it’s the song she’s been looking for.
They go straight from there to have a celebratory dinner with Chris and his girlfriend (maybe wife, but I think he was divorced). Everyone’s in a pretty good mood, but suddenly Sophie seems to have a panic attack and rushes to the bathroom. Sloan Cates, the writer/ex-boyfriend/her old professor has walked in, and she can’t face him. She tells Alex that she’d planned out a speech for when she saw him again, and tells him what it was, but says that now she knows she could never say that to him. Alex tells her that she has to, that people always want to be able to confront their ex’s when things are going well, and never get the chance, and that she now has that chance. She is, of course, a bit grungy, given that she had spent the whole week writing the song and hadn’t had a chance to shower, but Alex convinces Chris’s girlfriend to lend Sophie her dress and some makeup. They walk out together; Sophie looks stunning, and tries to talk to Sloan but gets all choked up. Sloan is, predictably, a jerk, and doesn’t let her finish, telling her that the book is being made into a movie. He goes to his seat, and Alex tries to get him to come back and listen to what she has to say, but Sloan refuses and eventually they get into a small fight, which ends with Alex being shoved onto the table with his face in the butter.
Sophie and Alex return to the apartment, and Alex tries to convince Sophie that she shouldn’t care what Sloan thinks of her. That’s when she says the thing about him being very sensitive for a man with such tight pants, from the trailer. She gets him ice to put on his injuries from the fight, and the two end up (of course) kissing and sleeping together. They wake up the next morning under the piano, and Alex calls Chris. Chris doesn’t know quite what to make of the development, but reminds Alex that he has a gig at an amusement park that afternoon and that he should wear his “crowd friendly” pants. Sophie wakes up, hits her head on the piano too, and Alex comes back inside to talk to her. They both seem a little unsure of how to proceed but nothing really clichéd, like “last night was a mistake” or “we should keep it professional” is uttered. Alex invites her to come along to the gig that afternoon and she agrees.
At the amusement park it’s very much like at the reunion dinner that he performed at earlier; a lot of middle-aged women who seem to like him a lot, but not much else. He finishes his “last” song and goes back to Sophie, who tells him that his songs were good, she hadn’t heard most of them before but they were better than she thought they’d be. Chris tells him that he has to go back to do an encore, but Alex seems reluctant. Sophie manages to convince him to go back onstage, because everyone there loves him and wants him to sing another song.
On the ride back to the city, Sophie remembers that she’s supposed to go to dinner with her sister, and that she’s late. She very artfully says “She won’t be mad…if you come too” and Alex agrees to go. At dinner, the two of them have a palpable connection, but really it’s more like they’re obviously comfortable and familiar with each other than anything. Rhonda (the sister) notices, and tells Sophie to be careful. She does of course shriek like a teenage girl when she finds out that Sophie and Alex slept together, though. As they’re leaving her sister’s apartment, Sophie and Alex again seem a little unsure of how to proceed. Alex had gotten a phone call from Chris telling him that Cora wanted to see them the next day to talk about the song, and Sophie says, “What time do you want me to meet you there?” and Alex, who looks like he’s still unsure of how to work with a partner, says he could pick her up. It looks like they’re just about to walk away from each other, but Sophie gives him a little kiss, and it turns a little more serious. Alex looks a bit confused when they break apart. They walk away in opposite directions, but turn around at the same time, see each other looking, and wave, then continue on. That night, there’s a montage of Alex reading the book that Sloan Cates wrote, and Sophie listening to his solo album.
The next morning, they go to Cora’s studio, where she gives them a little demonstration of how she plans to interpret the song; for one thing, Alex’s beautiful piano intro has given way to a lot of “steamy and sticky” dance movements and some beat boxing, along with a bit of vaguely Indian sounding music. Sophie is obviously not pleased, but Alex keeps her from saying anything. Both are invited to a party that night for Cora, who then adds that she wants another verse, because the song doesn’t feel finished yet. As they walk out Sophie tells Alex that she’s going to tell Cora that she hates the song. Alex says that he doesn’t care, he’ll sing it however she wants. Sophie asks him if he doesn’t care that she’s ruining the spirit of the song, and Alex says that his spirit doesn’t matter, because his music is “dessert” while great songs (like those of the Beatles) are “dinner”.
At the party, Sophie does indeed manage to tell Cora how she feels about it, but Cora does not really care, although she does say that she admires her honesty. Sophie seems determined to chase her down and convince her, but Alex tells her not to; he says that despite all the Buddhism and the “enlightenment” what Cora really cares about is selling CDs, and that if this is how she can sell the song, that is how she’ll sing it. Sophie seems insulted, but Alex says he wishes everything was more like that, a negotiation (important later), with people getting just what they needed from each other and leaving out feelings and romanticism.
Alex then says that they have to go and finish writing the last verse, so they leave. Sophie says she cannot write anymore, not for the way their song is going to be used and sung by Cora, and Alex starts to get a bit upset. He says he wishes Sophie would learn that the world wasn’t a fairytale and that she was sabotaging the song; he says that Sloan Cates was right, that she just used people to gain fame. She begs him to take it back, but he doesn’t and she leaves.
When Alex gets to the recording studio the next day, he starts to come up with an excuse as to why he hasn’t written the other verse, but Cora says Sophie faxed it over that morning, and that it’s just what she always wished she could have said to her boyfriend. They start singing, and Cora sings the new verse: “There are moments when I don’t know if it’s real/ or if anybody feels the way I feel/ I need inspiration/ not just another negotiation” and Alex obviously knows its about him and Sophie.
He again goes to see Sophie at the weight loss place, and Sophie is fairly cordial to him. She tells him she’s moving to Florida to manage another weight loss store, and will be doing the marketing campaign there. Alex tells her that “I can’t…compose without you,” and she tells him that that’s sweet, but untrue. They agree to part ways and Alex leaves, but first asks her if she’s coming to the Cora concert, where the new song with will be sung. She says that her niece and nephew are big fans, so of course she has to.
As they all arrive to the concert (Sophie, Rhonda, her husband and her kids) Sophie seems a little reluctant to go in, but Rhonda tells her that her niece and nephew had told all their friends that she had written Cora’s new song and they wanted to share that with her. They all go in. The audience is very young, but very large. The show opens with a large Buddha statue being unveiled and Cora coming out and doing a very interesting rendition of her hit song, “Entering Bootytown”. Rhonda’s husband and son are unsurprisingly enthralled. The song ends, and Cora introduces Alex, saying that “Now it’s time for a new song, that no one has heard before, by Alex Fletcher”. Sophie, thinking she’s been betrayed, starts to walk out. Alex goes to the piano on stage, and starts playing a little melody which does not sound like “Way Back into Love” (because it’s not), and after much to long, as Sophie starts up the aisle, starts to sing:
It's never been easy for me
To find words to go along with a melody
But this time there's actually something on my mind
So please forgive these few brief awkward lines
Since I met you, my whole life has changed
It's not just my furniture you've rearranged
I was living in the past, but somehow you've brought me back
And I haven't felt like this since before Frankie said, relax
And though I know
Based on my track record
I might not seem like the safest bet
All I'm asking you is
Don't write me off just yet
For years I've been telling myself the same old story
That I'm happy to live off my so-called former glories
But you've given me a reason to take another chance
Now I need you, despite the fact that you've killed all my plants
And though I know
I've already blown more chances
Than anyone should ever get
All I'm asking you is
Don't write me off just yet
Sophie is obviously touched, and runs up to the stage to see him. They kiss, Alex tells her that he’s sorry, and then Cora goes up to sing “Way Back into Love”, now with the pretty piano intro and none of the “steamy and sticky”-ness. Sophie asks him how he convinced her, and he says that he told her it would violate the integrity of the song and corrupt it’s meaning, and when that didn’t work, told her that it was the only way he could win Sophie back, because apparently, despite it all, Cora is a romantic. Alex goes up to sing his duet with Cora, the crowd loves the song, and once Alex finishes his lines, he runs back to kiss Sophie again.
Over the credits, the music video from the beginning plays again, but in pop-up video style, little balloons pop up telling the audience what happened to the band members. The funniest part is that all of them except for Alex had to have hip replacement surgery due to their famous dance move. Also, Alex and Sophie now live together and have written five top 40 songs. PoP was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they were reunited for a night, after which Colin had to get his hip replaced. Also, the movie based off the book about Sophie bombed. So, overall, happy ending.
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