When it comes to lighthearted Hollywood comedies and rom-coms, one composer seems to be the Luke Wilson of film scores. Over the years, Rolfe Kent has scored more than 40 films, mostly comedies (Wedding Crashers, Mean Girls, Legally Blonde) and light-hearted dramedies (The Matador, Election, Sideways – for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe). Despite their broad differences, throughout the movies he’s worked on, there runs a theme of comedy with an occasional dramatic tint. And judging from his latest work – scores for the fanciful rom-coms 17 Again and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past – this seems to be Kent’s specialty. Whether a reversal of the switcheroo storyline of Big or a reimagining of A Christmas Carol – both films feature an aspect of magic.

The reasons I’ve decided to review these two albums together are fairly straightforward: they’re by the same composer, they’re both performed by The Skywalker Symphony Orchestra, they’re being released at the same time, and the films the music comes from are of the same light strain of romantic comedy. In light of the previous points, it seems unsurprising that the two collections of music would sound so remarkably similar. Both include around 40 minutes of music, with short, bouncy tracks. Both feature a lot of expressive string work, particularly in the moments where the dramatic elements of the plot creep into play. But despite the numerous similarities found in the music for these two films, there are subtle differences as well.

For the Matthew McConaughey /Jennifer Garner -led Ghosts of Girlfriends Past Kent decided to focus more on the characters, creating musical motifs for each character and themes for important moments of the film. Parts of this score  (particularly when our two leads get together) are jazzy, playful, and exaggeratedly hip, with percussion playing a major part in establishing the vibe – check out “Jenny and Connor Meet and Spar” or “Jenny and Connor; Wedding Sex” for examples of this. The rest of the score is heavy on the strings, particularly the violin, and follows the standard emotional ups and downs of romantic comedies. It only takes one listen to “Best Man Speech” to understand where we are in the movie at this point and the kind of bittersweet moment we should be sharing with our onscreen hero. It’s moments like these that sell dramatic moments in romantic comedies to major audiences – kudos to Kent for this – but by the same token, it’s something we’ve heard so many times before that on an album it’s a bit unimpressive.

For the more successful (by box office standards, at least) Zac Efron Big-reversal 17 Again, Kent has reached a little bit further into his bag of tricks and pulled out a much more lively collection of tracks. “My approach to this score was to take the drama seriously, while having a lot of fun with the energy and humour of the film,” Kent says in the liner notes. And it’s clear that he’s set out to have fun. There’s a constant air of mystery and excitement to this collection of tracks – the quick and energetic “Race to the Courthouse” is a perfect example of the kind of fast-paced excitement that Kent is working with here. Even better, the track is immediately followed by the melancholy “I Lost My Way,” showcasing Kent’s ability to delve into a dramatic world that isn’t purely surface level – unlike much of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Additionally, a track like “Alex Saves the Game” – with its John Williams style action sequences – shows that Kent knows how to have a little fun with his music as well.

Overall, these two albums (47 tracks and almost an hour and a half of music, combined) showcase a talented and prolific Hollywood composer. There’s a reason Rolfe Kent has been tapped for so many well-known mainstream films: he knows how to capture the friendly fun that these films require. While Ghosts of Girlfriends Past isn’t his most impressive showing – featuring a relatively formulaic collection of music – 17 Again gives him a little more room to express his creativity and deliver interesting, though not imminently memorable, musical moments.

Zach’s Rating: Ghosts: C, 17 Again: B
Perfect For: Recreating your standard Hollywood rom-com musical environment
Stay Away if: You’re looking for the most innovative album of the year

Both the soundtrack for Ghost of Girlfriends Past and 17 Again are available at Amazon

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