Seriously, though. At what point does Hugh Grant go from being a dashing, stammering but charming Brit to being a glib, occasionally creepy curmudgeon? Check out this clip from his new motion picture vehicle The Rewrite.
First of all, what happened to that age-old film school axiom about not making movies about making movies? Okay, technically, The Rewrite seems to be about teaching, but making Grant’s character an aging screenwriter is the easiest filmic shorthand for bitterness short of writing him into a loveless, suburban marriage.
More to the point: This is not your mother’s Hugh Grant — unless you mean this Grant is surly and disagreeable enough to be your dad. I remember painfully shy, droopy-eyed Grant stammering his way through films like Sense and Sensibility and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Women were falling all over themselves for this guy and he hadn’t yet learned to properly tweeze his unibrow. Hell, men bought in, too.
Unable to feign ignorance of his own beauty and appeal for long, Grant soon adopted the cinematic rakishness he employed to spectacular effect in Bridget Jones Diary. Women still ate it up. Later, in a stroke of unforeseeable genius, he grafted a laziness into his persona, becoming the prototype for the privileged manchild. (See: About a Boy and my personal favorite Two Weeks Notice.)
By the former, Grant had demonstrated a remarkable knack for portraying a complete asshole — often one with an uncanny ability to avoid work. The stammer wasn’t as winning, the hair didn’t flop anymore, but he remained devastatingly handsome, somehow ultimately beloved, and a firm claimant to the title of Hollywood leading man.
By Music and Lyrics — still a decent film by Hollywood romcom standards — the cracks had literally begun to show. Grant was older. Casting him as an artist in the twilight of his career made him seem more pathetic than the younger man with no career that he’d played in previous films. And his romantic interest in a much younger woman was a tad disturbing. The Rewrite appears to be a return to that familiar territory (both were written and directed by frequent Grant collaborator Marc Lawrence), except that Grant’s character exhibits an even greater number of unlikable qualities including sloth, self-pity, sexism, and unapologetically creepy old man lust.
Increasingly, Grant’s films ask us to believe that women — like Marisa Tomei, like the audience — leveled by his remaining good looks, will find his reprehensible behavior compelling. Will viewers buy into it this time? I don’t know. If I go see The Rewrite, it will probably be because Tomei — undeniably — only gets better with age.