The Rewrite (2014)

Hugh Grant is perfect as the screenwriter whose next assignment may require ... a rewrite

Still Of Hugh Grant in ‘The Rewrite’ (2014)

Hugh Grant in ‘The Rewrite’ (2014)

Synopsis

Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) is a famous Hollywood writer who's well known for his award-winning script, Paradise Misplaced. Well, that was 15 years ago. Nowadays, his pitches are failing to connect with a younger set of producers. He tries everything, everyone. No one's buying. He's running out of money. The only option left: a temporary post teaching screenwriting in Binghamton, New York.

As he gets to know the students and fellow faculty, we get to know him. His verbal wit gets him in trouble because the jokes that tumble from his often-inebriated brain are so clever it's hard to distinguish them from insults or condescension. He's a womanizer. He has no interest in teaching. He makes an enemy of the powerful Professor Weldon (Allison Janney), by lambasting her academic subject, Jane Austin. And he nonchalantly has an affair with one of his students.

But as he settles in, there are signs of hope. He has a chummy relationship with university head Dr. Hal Lerner (J.K. Simmons) and Shakespeare specialist Jim Harper (Chris Elliott), who is always there with an appropriate quote from the bard. He warms up to the teaching job and his students ... and they actually start to progress under his reluctant tutelage. He even has a platonic friendship with older student Holly Carpenter (Marisa Tomei), a single mother who has talked her way into his class.

But that affair ... it threatens to derail what he may be considering an incipient career "rewrite" as a teacher.

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Grant is perfectly cast as the verbally adroit smartmouth who can't help himself when a snappy line occurs to him. You should dislike him but can't help but root for him.

Simons and Elliot are flawless in their roles as understanding colleagues who try to steer Michaels down the right path. Likewise, Tomei is believable and appealing as the optimistic foil to Michaels' depressive and dispirited wiseguy whose career as a screenwriter may just be over. And Janney is frightfully intimidating as the influential tenured prof who holds his fate in her hands.

The additional comic relief in the form of the students leans a bit much into stereotype, though not too offensively so. But Michael's condescending attitude toward women, as cast through the lens of a male writer/director, shines through in obvious and less obvious ways, particularly in the character of Karen (Bella Heathcote), a manipulative charmer who may be Michaels' undoing.

How you feel about that may make the difference between whether you decide The Rewrite is for you. For myself, I found the clever lines and Grant's perfect delivery worth watching. Toward the end, it's impressive to watch Grant as his inner monologue remains inner, and he rewrites his spoken comments in more palatable terms.

And the ending is an example of a movie that knows just when to fade out on the perfect last frame.

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