The Rewrite is the latest romantic comedy from Marc Lawrence, who we know from similar fare like 2009’s Did You Hear About the Morgans? and 2007’s vastly superior Music and Lyrics. Hugh Grant stars as Keith Michaels, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who spends his days giving fruitless pitches and reminiscing about his days of Hollywood glory. When an opportunity to work as an adjunct professor at a small state university in New York arises, a reluctant Keith travels across the country, seeking a paycheck and finding his destiny. Or something like that. Academy Award-winner Marissa Tomei is here, too, she’s on the posters after all, but this is a Hugh Grant film through and through.
So it must be said: Grant’s leading role as Keith Michaels may be one of the most unlikable characters we’ve seen the man play. If anyone but Grant had been cast for as Keith, he’d have a pretty big pit to dig himself out of, as Keith is a chauvinistic, selfish, pessimistic ass for the vast majority of the film. Even Grant’s unstoppable charisma can only just pull it off.
Lawrence really wants us to like Keith, don’t get me wrong; the odd dramatic moment where our forlorn protagonist reminisces about the past and the ties he’s lost with his family might pull some heartstrings here and there, but it doesn’t last. What’s more, any sense of redemption we might have for Keith occurs at the end of the film, maybe fifteen minutes before the credits roll. It’s tough to really hate Hugh Grant – that voice, that accent, that jawline, my god – but Keith isn’t the kind of protagonist I found myself rooting for.
By contrast, the most interesting and believable character of the lot is Bella Heathcote’s Karen, an undergraduate who “seduces” Keith and eventually leads to a looming ethics panel that serves as the climax of the film. In a more modern, progressive film, Karen would probably be more of a sympathetic character, a victim of her own neglected family life crashing into Keith’s predatory impulses and lack of self-control; here she’s played up as a screeching harpy who exists solely as a speed bump in his way to a happy ending with leading lady Holly. It’s more than a little sad if you think about it. So don’t. It’s a romcom.
Tomei’s Holly herself is just kind of…there, frankly. She’s a standard cinema single mother – meaning that here, she’s a saint, a generic counterweight against Keith’s soul-crushing pessimism, spouting Hallmark calendar good vibes during the few scenes where she’s given a chance to play against the leading man. There aren’t too many of those, oddly enough, and what minimal chance we’re given to learn more about the character are quickly drowned in cutesy dance lessons with her kids and lighthearted arguments with Keith. She ends up feeling like a prop and the film treats her like one throughout.
The rest of the cast is there as joke material, and here’s where The Rewrite excels. It’s funny! Well, if you make the film more cerebral than it’s intended, it’s actually not all that funny…but if you take it as it’s given to you, there are plenty of laughs to be had. (Newly minted Academy Award-winner) J.K. Simmons and Chris Elliott are both at the top of their game comedically, and even ol’ grouchy Keith gets some zingers in here and there during his reluctant lectures on screenwriting. Even if it’s not especially romantic, The Rewrite still makes for a great comedy.
Basically, if you’re willing to turn off your brain and let The Rewrite direct you into a world where Hugh Grant’s acerbic British-ness proves to be a force of good against the vile forces of, uh, sexually liberated young women and university ethics codes, then it’s not a bad flick. It’s no Music and Lyrics, but that would be a tough hurdle to leap – ironic, given the premise. The chemistry between Grant and Tomei is certainly present when it’s allowed to be, so you’re getting what you pay for here. Don’t come in expecting The Rewrite to change your view of cinema (you probably aren’t, let’s be honest here) and it’ll make for a decent couple hours and more than its fair share of laughs.