Another Hugh Grant vehicle with writer/director Marc Lawrence isn't as vapid as their Did You Hear About The Morgans? but turns out to be a somewhat amusing, if predictable bauble about starting over. At least some counter programming for those not into the more steamy, highly anticipated offering this Valentine's Day that is destined for a short theatrical shelf life.
The Rewrite has a likable cast around Grant (seen in the thought-provoking and sprawling if unwieldy Cloud Atlas) including Marisa Tomei, Allison Janney and Bella Heathcote (Not Fade Away). But, it's clear that the British thespian has lost a bit of his heartthrob charm from when he really flourished in pics like Notting Hill,Four Weddings and a Funeral as well as Love, Actually and About A Boy.
His Oscar-winner screenwriter Keith Michaels has come on hard times of late trying to come up with a new script while financially fizzling out from a boozy obstinate demeanor. An opportunity from his agent leads to a guest screenwriting gig at an upstate New York (Binghamton) University. Where he runs into brusque feminist upper faculty member (Janney of The Help and TV's Mom) as well as bedding nubile student (Heathcote) which doesn't get him off to a good start.
To be fair, Lawrence has trouble in the first reel gaining any viewer empathy from the awkwardness of the conversations to limp prodding at levity. Yet, the introduction of Tomei's Holly, a single mom working two jobs to finance her degree begins to have a positive effect on the resident writer. Lawrence seems to have more control over the proceedings as Michaels appears to adjust to small-town life, but don't expect the edge, wit or depth and poignancy of a Wonder Boys which was a great comeback role for Michael Douglas (who surprised many in Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra).
Nonetheless, Grant seems to find comfort in an element that has served him well with a less rangy Tomei (Love Is Strange, The Lincoln Lawyer) helping a great deal to make their dynamic palatable within the framework of character commonality. Familiar faces like Chris Elliott (Groundhog Day, The Dictator, Dance Flick) pop up, but it's the ubiquitous J.K. Simmons (a veritable Oscar contender for his very intimidating music teacher in Whiplash in contrast to the deadpan efficiency in those 'Farmers Markets' ads) who's the strong comic relief in colleague Dr. Lerner. While The Rewrite feels recycled in terms of story construction and execution, Grant and his capable co-stars make it more fine-tuned, watchable and less candy-coated to confer its ideas in standard, but respectable fashion.