The Rewrite casts perpetual cad Hugh Grant as Keith Michaels, a former best screenplay winner that hasn't found much work lately. The movie opens on him pitching to several movie studio executives, and they all him the same thing: they're looking for movies that feature something "different," namely a kickass female lead. There is some intriguing venom in this opening sequence, and a trenchant point to be made later on. But it's hard to take that point seriously in a movie that feels like an utter relic, one with a screenplay that just doesn't make the grade.
It certainly wouldn't pass the class that the main character ends up teaching in the film. Desperate for any sort of work, Keith takes an offer to teach screenwriting in a small college in the boondocks of upstate New York. He is determined to just coast through, believing that writing cannot be taught. But thanks to the enthusiasm of his students, and the efforts of the aggressively insistent older student Holly (Marisa Tomei), he soon discovers the pleasures of sharing his craft.
The Rewrite, speaking through its main character, comes to offer all sorts of lessons about writing a movie. It seems to hold itself up as an example of what screenplays ought to be, especially in comparison to the aforementioned movies that Hollywood seems to want; the ones with those kickass female leads. The film feels like a misguided overreaction to that particular trend. Its criticisms of Hollywood and its hollow desires ring false in an emotionally empty movie filled with nothing but paper-thin female characters.
It is interesting to note that despite having numerous female characters, the movie doesn't pass the Bechdel test. These women only exist either to be ogled at, ridiculed, or in the case of the most substantial female character, a facilitator for the main character's inevitable redemption. The most talented writer in his class is a male. A woman character put into a position of authority is depicted as prudish and vindictive. In short, the movie is happy to point out problems, but doesn't do anything to really move things forward.
The film is heavily reliant on the talents of its leading man, Hugh Grant. Grant tends to sell inferior material through sheer force of will, and this movie proves to be no exception. There is just something about his forceful yet fumbling delivery that charms in spite of the weakness of the lines. Marisa Tomei is quite fetching as his leading lady as well, but the role isn't really much of a challenge. Tomei, a formidable actor in her own right, deserves something meatier. Here she is limited to spunk, the character lacking the substance to make it worth the actor’s time.
Hugh Grant offers The Rewrite a modicum of appeal, but seeing him stuck doing projects like this one is actually kind of sad. This script actually does feel like it was written in the 90s, back when Grant's powers were at their highest, and Hollywood was tripping all over itself to provide the actor with lucrative starring vehicles. Grant, now grayer, should probably move on to better material. The Rewrite gripes about the Hollywood environment today, but only because it has nothing new to offer itself.