Movies: The Rewrite

A film from 2014 masquerading as something from around 1999. A cute story that has potential collapses under its own lack of direction and any real conflict.

Hugh Grant plays Keith Michaels, a once-hot screenwriter whose star has faded. Desperate for work, he agrees to teach a course at a university in Binghamton, NY. Almost immediately he falls into bed with a cute student, catches the ire of the resident uptight, tenured professor (Allison Janney), and finds himself dogged by a persistent would-be screenwriter (Marisa Tomei). Chris Elliott and J.K. Simmons round out the pretty stellar cast—too bad the movie didn't do much with them.

Despite so much being thrown at its main character, The Rewrite fails to provide conflict or tension of any kind, almost as though it can't bear to be too mean to bumbling-but-well-meaning Grant. It also can't muster any kind of through line. Instead of a stretched, taut rubber band, this movie is more like a rubber band ball, everything mushed together. Situations are set up and then dropped or let down in a anticlimactic way.

1. Professor Weldon (Janney) takes a dislike to Michaels at his first staff mixer when he admits not liking Jane Austen then proceeds to also bad mouth the idea of kick-ass women in films. But while this does come into play a little bit later, Weldon is mostly absent from the film, a potential point of conflict left unused.

2. Michaels starts a relationship with one of his students. Obviously a no-no. But when they break it off, the student does not go in for the kill, and [spoiler alert] Michaels is able to talk himself out of trouble.

3. The supposed building relationship between Michaels and Tomei's character is practically non-existent. They chat, they chat, they fall in love? I think? Zero build up, zero chemistry.

4. There's some kind of story about Michaels trying to reconnect with his estranged son, but that is marginalized to the point one wonders why even have it in the movie at all?

We're supposed to feel bad for Michaels because he's being aged out of Hollywood. They want "fresh voices." But we're not given time to sympathize because he immediately begins doing stuff to get himself in trouble.

I also had a problem with the subtle misogyny in this movie. It's insidious but there. Janney's uptight spinster character; the way Michaels gets away with boinking a student; the ongoing jokes about J.K. Simmons' character having a wife and four daughters; and—most tellingly—the fact that one of the only male students in Michaels' class has a brilliant script that gets snapped up immediately. Because the girls are only meant to be pretty, of course, and none of them can actually write.

It's a shame, really, that this movie isn't better. Because it could have been. Loads. It's the kind of movie I usually enjoy, but this one was just off enough that I didn't. Go watch Music and Lyrics (for your Hugh Grant fix) or Wonder Boys (for a story about a washed-up writer) instead.

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