The Rewrite, written and directed by Marc Lawrence feels like a throwback to the romantic comedies of the early 2000s and late ’90s, the kind in which Hugh Grant has always excelled. He revives his signature charming cad persona here among an impressive cast that includes Marisa Tomei, J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney. As screenwriter Keith Michaels who has never been able to re-create the success of his big hit, “Paradise Misplaced”, he reluctantly accepts a teaching assignment suggested by his agent at snowy Binghamton University in New York, where he hopes he can get away with as little actual teaching as possible while he works on a new script.
His mistakes start piling up immediately, as first he naïvely sleeps with aggressive student Karen (Bella Heathcoat), and then insults the head of the ethics committee and Jane Austen academic, Professor Weldon (Allison Janney), in a funny scene where he complains about Hollywood’s supposed demand for empowered female characters (based entirely on the recent rejections of his scripts). As the amiable dean, J.K. Simmons’s reaction to Keith’s epic foot-in-his-mouth speech in this scene is great. Keith also selects the students for his class based on their attractiveness (do universities really have student profiles on their websites?) instead of their submitted screenplays, and then lets them believe he’s working on a new Matt Damon project.
Unfortunately, the minor characters, such as sardonic student Sara (Annie Q.) and the unconvincingly geeky Billy (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), never live up to their potential. The choice of a Star Wars obsession to represent geekdom feels dated, and the story is not sure what to do with Chris Elliott’s Shakespeare-quoting professor who lives next door to Keith. Marisa Tomei is likable as the chipper single mother Holly who nags Keith into letting him take her class, but the usual rom-com team of oddball friends is lacking and the humor suffers. There are plenty of opportunities there: Holly’s daughters could’ve shown up and had awkward conversations with Keith, or the students could have had scenes together where they worked on a project, etc. Janney’s Professor Lerner feels a bit underused as well.
The second half of the film is stronger, however, partly because we learn more about Keith’s personal life, and Grant and Tomei’s chemistry is very enjoyable. The story avoids making some obvious leaps, especially regarding Keith’s need for a new script and a student’s impressive one, and [Mild Spoiler] Keith doesn’t get a Hollywood ending as a writer or estranged father (although there’s hope for the latter). Altogether, it’s a lighthearted, fun date movie that opens in theaters this Friday, just in time for Valentine’s Day, naturally.
As a footnote, I enjoyed reading the comments of Binghamton students on the trailer on YouTube. For example: “There was one scene in there that looked all beautiful with tons of kids sitting on the grass in a quad having fun. Yeah…that wasn’t in Binghamton.”
Image courtesy of Katrina Wan PR