Despite my enormous affection for Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999) and, dare I say it, Love Actually (2003), not to mention his underrated turn in American Dreamz (2006), my desire to follow the career of Hugh Grant has waned somewhat, mainly due to his disappointing choice of roles. In 2002, Grant began a working relationship with director Marc Lawrence with the dull Two Weeks Notice, alongside Sandra Bullock, that had none of the charm of Lawrence’s previous outing with Bullock, Miss Congeniality (2000). Lawrence’s Music and Lyrics (2007), that had Grant as a pop star who rediscovers his mojo via his domestic help Drew Barrymore, was mildly diverting. Lawrence’s Did You Hear About The Morgans? (2009) was a flaccid exercise, where Grant and his wife Sarah Jessica Parker rediscover their marriage mojo in a witness protection programme.
On a recent long plane journey, having run out of movies to watch, I was thumbing through the airline entertainment guide and came across Lawrence’s The Rewrite (2014), about an Oscar-winning Hollywood screenwriter who rediscovers his writing mojo on a teaching gig at a small American university. I was fully prepared for the film to be a soporific one, but it woke me up. Grant’s screenwriting professor is gleefully politically incorrect, alcoholic and thinks nothing of sleeping with his students, thus cheerfully flouting university rules. And Grant’s central performance is his usual mixture of self-deprecation and charm, but is tempered with an emotional maturity, particularly when he is trying to connect with his estranged son.
Shortly after, Woody Allen’s Irrational Man (2015) came along, and the similarity in theme with The Rewrite is striking. Joaquin Phoenix is a revered professor of philosophy, alcoholic of course, who washes up at a small American university. He has lost the will to live and is immune to the considerable charms of colleague Parker Posey and student Emma Stone. He is revitalised when he decides to commit a random and brutal act of kindness. Like many great filmmakers in their dotage, Woody Allen seems to be recycling his own material, as there are echoes of much of his best work in the film, a greatest hits package as it were. It is enjoyable nevertheless.
It is with much joy that I received the news of the British Film Institute (BFI) conferring a Fellowship, the highest honour it can bestow, upon Grant. Eric Fellner, Co-Chairman of Working Title Films, producer of numerous Grant hits, including the aforementioned Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually, put it best when he said, “Hugh is one of those extraordinary British actors, whose effortless performance and onscreen charm has endeared him to generations of audiences worldwide. His success has helped British film as a whole carve out a place in the world with a distinct quality that easily rivals the best to come out of Hollywood and other countries. For that contribution alone, he deserves this remarkable honour from the BFI.”