The Rewrite opens with Hugh Grant playing a charming yet socially inept Englishman abroad, trying to pitch script ideas to film studios. He’s not having much luck because his character Keith Michaels hasn’t written a hit since his Oscar-winning debut Paradise Misplaced. Depressed and nearing bankruptcy, he takes up a creative writing professorship in a quiet town in up-state New York. All would be fine if Michaels wasn’t a womanising alcoholic who sleeps with a student on his first night and drunkenly insults half the faculty before he’s started teaching. Throw in a redeeming dalliance with Marisa Tomei’s gold-hearted single mother, and you’ve got a fuzzy date movie. Hugh Grant starring in a rom-com, eh? Whatever next.
A supporting cast of stellar character actors – Allison Janney, JK Simmons and Chris Elliott – are foils for Grant’s trademark social awkwardness, which seems to have mutated into a darker – and funnier – misanthropy with age.
Only, Grant’s presence is pretty much the only part of The Rewrite that feels like a rom-com. There are no set pieces, no laugh-out-loud moments and no one really falls in love. Rather, writer-director Marc Lawrence uses the premise to discuss how an aspiring screenwriter finds and formats their “truth” in a way that’s appealing to the masses. It’s all very meta and it can get a bit navel-gazing, particularly when characters make in-jokes about the Writers Guild of America in a film that’s essentially a feature-length study of the insularity and fickleness of Hollywood.
While it doesn’t rewrite the genre, it certainly plays around with enough ideas to keep things interesting. Whether it will appeal to rom-com fans, though, is another story.