The Rewrite (2014)

The RewriteSince winning Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards in 1998, Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) has been struggling to replicate the success of his debut — the seemingly universally adored Paradise Misplaced. His latest pitch — a Jack Nicholson vehicle about a man who attends his own funeral — is proving impossible to sell in a landscape of kick-ass heroines and Young Adult fantasy, leaving him with no option but to accept the teaching residency offered up by his agent, Ellen (Caroline Aaron). Within hours of arriving on campus at Binghampton University, Michaels has slept with a student, Karen (Bella Heathcote), offended a tenured lecturer (Allison Janney) by insulting her beloved Jane Austen and dismissed his class for a full month having concluded that writing is something that simply cannot be taught. With the help of mature student Holly Carpenter (Marisa Tomei), however, Professor Michaels begins to come around to his new profession.

It’s nice to have Hugh Grant back. Since Did Your Hear About The Morgans bombed in 2009 the actor has almost disappeared from our screens. A shame, really, not simply because he used to be such a familiar screen presence but because the films he has done since have been some of the most interesting of his career so far. He was the voice of Pirate Captain in Aardman’s Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists, maintaining his trademark wit and charm while still exploring new territory, while in Cloud Atlas he broke character completely, appearing alternately as a racist reverend, a Korean rapist and a tattoo-covered cannibal. The Rewrite isn’t quite as drastic a departure, but it’s still a slight deviation from the norm.

Out of touch with the movie business, estranged from his 18-year-old son and “just a little bit tired of women’s lib”, Michaels doesn’t have many friends when we meet him. That doesn’t immediately change when he moves to Binghampton, a small college town in Upstate New York that’s almost as miserable as he is; but according to the long distant weather forecast things are looking up. The endgame might be largely predictable, but the route taken is full of surprises. Writer-director Marc Lawrence asks some interesting questions about how much a screenplay can reveal about the writer, and Michaels’ conversations with Carpenter on the subject of the stories they tell are often well-observed and interesting to watch. The same is true of his relationship with Karen — her screenplay is about an innocent girl’s troubled relationship with her father, and she’s taken aback when Michaels’ reveals that the father character is actually the more compelling of the two.

Sadly, the film falls largely flat elsewhere. It would be unimaginative to suggest that The Rewrite could itself do with a rewrite, but Michaels’ lectures on the subject of narrative often serve to highlight its own deficiencies. The lecturer asserts that in cinema character is key, and yet the supporting characters in The Rewrite are about as unremarkable as they come: a Star Wars geek who can’t write anything else, a deadpan girl who secretly cries at Annie Hall and a tote-loving Jane Austen lecturer who has never heard of Clueless. The biggest waste is J.K. Simmons’ Dr Lerner, who can’t talk about his family for more than fifteen seconds without weeping with joy. And that’s about it. If even Simmons struggles to make a character work you know that something somewhere has gone horribly wrong. The only real exception is Emily Morden as Andrea Stein-Rosen, a gullible fangirl who takes the bait every time Michaels’ drops a name, but all of her best bits are in the trailer.

Ultimately, The Rewrite isn’t funny or scathing enough to make the necessary impression. In fact, it might have helped if Lawrence had taken his own screenwriting class before setting out.

2-stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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