Alex & Emma
Director : Rob Reiner
Screenplay : Jeremy Leven and Adam Scheinman & Andy Scheinman & Rob Reiner
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : Luke Wilson (Alex Sheldon / Adam Shipley), Kate Hudson (Emma Dinsmore / Ylva / Elsa / Eldora / Anna), David Paymer (John Shaw), Sophie Marceau (Polina Delacroix), Chino XL (Tony), Lobo Sebastian (Bobby), Rob Reiner (Wirschafter)
The ads for Alex & Emma, both in print and on television, proudly declare that it comes to us from Rob Reiner, “the director of When Harry Met Sally,” but don’t be fooled. For every bit that the latter is a warm, engaging, funny, and knowing exploration of modern romance, the former is an awkward, trite, manufactured “romantic comedy” that is not particularly romantic or funny. If the ads had been more honest, they would have declared that it comes from “the director of The Story of Us.”
The first problem with Alex & Emma is Alex and Emma themselves: There is an obvious lack of chemistry between the two leads, Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson. Wilson plays Alex Sheldon, a self-proclaimed “brilliant novelist” who has a bad case of writer’s block while trying to pen his sophomore effort. Hudson, dressed down with mousy brown hair and a librarian’s wardrobe, plays Emma Dinsmore, a stenographer whom Alex hires so he can dictate his new novel. Both Wilson and Hudson are appealing and interesting young actors, but on-screen their characters never really click; they generate no heat. At best, they have a few cute moments together, such as when Alex clearly wants to tell Emma he loves her, but can only manage “I uh, I uh, I uh,” and she gives him the perfect response: “I uh you, too.”
The movie’s second problem is the ridiculously overburdened plot mechanics that are designed to bring them together. The reason Alex needs a stenographer is because he has to write the book in 30 days so he can get his advance to pay off the Cuban Mafia, to whom he owes $100,000. Yes, the Cuban Mafia, who are embodied by two tattooed hulks in gold chains and wifebeaters (Chino XL and Lobo Sebastian) who show up every once in a while to dangle Alex off his balcony and set his laptop on fire (hence the need for a stenographer).
The question is, why does the movie even need this plot device? Couldn’t Alex simply want to dictate a novel? Of course, the Cuban Mafia angle adds the element of a race against time, the old deadline plot device that is so central to Hollywood movies. But, it’s only a distraction from the real subject matter, which is the growing relationship between Alex and Emma. (And, for the record, I realize that this whole scenario is loosely based on the circumstances under which Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote The Gambler, but in the context of this movie, that just makes it look all the more absurd.)
As far as distractions go, little could be worse than the constant narrative intrusions of the visualization of the book Alex is writing, which is about a love triangle set on a chic East Coast island in 1924. Remember, Wilson is playing a “brilliant novelist,” which is probably the movie’s funniest joke because the novel he’s dictating is so willfully, painfully bad that you keep thinking it has to be a put-on. Surely Reiner doesn’t expect us to buy into this silly tripe, particularly when he films it like a cheap made-for-TV movie. Wilson plays the novel’s main character, a young English tutor named Adam Shipley who’s hot for his employer, a sexy French divorcee named Polina Delacroix (Sophie Marceau) who’s about to get a big inheritance. His attention should be focused, however, on the sweet au pair, Anna (played by Hudson first as a Swede, then as a German, then as a Latina, then finally as a mousy brown-haired American).
Adam is a blissful idiot of a character, something Emma keeps pointing out to Alex, but it’s as if the screenwriters of Alex & Emma—all four of them—couldn’t hear what their own character was telling them. They chug forward with the story, cutting back and forth between Alex and Emma and Adam and Anna. The clear intention here is to create parallel romantic stories that play on the same theme: love as self-destructive idealism versus love as sensible commitment. Emma/Anna represents the kind of woman Alex/Adam should be in love with: smart, down-to-earth, caring, and, most importantly, committed to him. Unfortunately, like so many men, Alex wastes his time chasing “passion” with a woman who jerks him around. This is certainly an interesting theme for a romantic comedy and one that will resonate with more than a few audience members. Which, again, brings me to ask, was the inclusion of the Cuban Mafia really necessary?
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick