The Rewrite (2014)
Editor’s Notes: The Rewrite is currently open in limited release.
Screenwriter Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) has been treading water in Hollywood for fifteen years, his laurels firmly resting on a single Oscar-winning script and little else. Now, short on salable ideas and with Southern California Edison breathing down his neck, Michaels agrees to take on a resident teaching position at Binghamton University. Moments after arriving in town, he’s sulking about his decidedly downscale digs; a few hours later, he’s sleeping with a student; a day later, he’s launching into a sexist rant in the middle of a faculty wine and cheese reception.
Grant, as reliable as Old Faithful and twice as handsome, exudes his trademark ruffled charm in The Rewrite, his fourth collaboration with writer-director in Marc Lawrence.
Grant, as reliable as Old Faithful and twice as handsome, exudes his trademark ruffled charm in The Rewrite, his fourth collaboration with writer-director in Marc Lawrence. It’s a charm heavily mitigated by astonishingly caddish behavior, however; the Keith Michaels we first get to know is a man with few redeeming qualities. Inexplicably, nearly everyone he meets at Binghamton likes him, even adores him, despite his flaws. Beautiful returning student Holly Carpenter (Marisa Tomei) is treated abysmally by Michaels but shrugs it off, while gruff-yet-lovable Dr. Lerner (J.K. Simmons), the head of the English department, is a stickler for the rules, except when it comes to Michaels.
It’s all part of an overwhelming unevenness that makes The Rewrite feel like two films smashed into one: the first, a warm and engaging character study, and the second, an unremarkable rom-com. The Rewrite works best when it uses a light touch, but the script lacks confidence and too often spells out its revelations and insights. A handful of meta references pepper the film, some charming, others shoehorned in. It’s refreshing to see a film poke fun at sexism within Hollywood, and confusing to see the same film turn an English professor (Allison Janney) into a humorless feminist cliché. There are moments in The Rewrite that are almost painfully true to life nestled alongside a host of anachronisms, like stacks of university assignments submitted in dead tree format, and highly accomplished faculty members lacking basic knowledge of their chosen field.
But if the film’s missteps are the domain of middling television sitcoms, its successes are those of classic romantic comedies.
But if the film’s missteps are the domain of middling television sitcoms, its successes are those of classic romantic comedies. The leads are uniformly affable and appealing, Binghamton is a lovely (if slightly damp) setting, and the supporting characters are fun and often fascinating. Chris Elliot puts in a touching and goofy turn as an oddball Shakespeare professor, and relative newcomer Annie Q. as Sara, a hilariously intense Film Studies major, effortlessly steals scenes from the seasoned pros around her.
Michaels isn’t exactly hapless, but he’s hardly a protagonist at all, allowing himself to be swept along in the waves created by others’ lives. When he makes the occasional attempt to create his own waves, the result are some of the funniest moments in the film. The Rewrite is an old-fashioned film in its way, but it’s also warm and comfortable, with an appealing subtlety in the film’s smaller moments.
The Rewrite is an old-fashioned film, but it's also warm and comfortable, with an appealing subtlety in the film's smaller moments.