Alex & Emma
review by Elias Savada, 20 June 2003

As if the thirty inches of rain that has drenched the Washington, D.C., area this year hasn't been depressing enough, the new romantic comedy Alex & Emma drowns any iota of movie-magic romance and uncovers a drought of comic talent. For a film about a writer and the creative process, it's an inspired wreck from actor-turned-producer/director Rob Reiner, who first and last used a story within a story concept immensely more successfully in the beloved fantasy The Princess Bride. And it's not as if the Bronx-born Reiner can't handle the genre, because he's succeeded with The Sure Thing, The American President, and one of the best of them all, When Harry Met Sally. He stumbled badly in 1999 with the somber, deconstructive The Story of Us, just to wait four more years to brings us this poppycock. My, but the times they are a-changing, for the worse. Please Rob, make this just another hiccup. Yes, we also regret North, but your directorial career still places you today at a very respectable 6.895 on the rating scale. Heck, if every Californian voted the same way as viewers of your movies, you could even run for governor! (Is that why there are so many presidential jokes in your film?)

So, what's wrong with Alex & Emma aside from its general loveless feel and unfunny core? It feels forced and overwrought, particularly with nearly non-stop voiceover narration by star Luke Wilson, who plays a stressed-out, Boston-based novelist caught between some menacing Cuban loan sharks and a huge case of writer's block. As Alex Sheldon, he sporadically, then frantically, sputters up over the course of a month his next book, for which his ever-confident publisher (Rob Reiner) has promised him enough money, but only when the manuscript is delivered. It's not likely to surprise any viewer that the author will obviously pay off his debt, save his own life, and eventually win the girl. Getting there should be a whole lot more charming than watching this brick of a movie inch its way through a tiring 100 minutes.

Loosely based on an incident behind Fyodor Dostoevsky's compulsive study The Gambler (in which a gambling-addicted writer must write a book in thirty days to clear a debt, hires a stenographer, and ultimately falls in love with her), the script by Jeremy Leven (The Legend of Bagger Vance) zigzags between present-day Bean Town and an imaginary island (discovered by real life 16th-century explorer Jacques Cartier—there's a joke in there somewhere) off the coast of Maine back in the golden-drenched summer of 1924. Emma Dinsmore (Kate Hudson), is a level-headed, but romantically uninvolved stenographer who temps for law firms and somehow finds herself romantically bamboozled by Alex to spend four-plus weeks with him, mostly on a dare and certainly without any cash, converting the tiresome dictation into a boring love story. It's what every attractive, single woman dreams of, isn't it?

Emma, ever the opinionated modern muse, prefers to read the last page of any book first, just like Jack Nicholson's Warren Schmidt. But screenwriter Leven, instead of building on that obsession, wherein the film might have succeeded if he used some Memento-style backwards-forwards stylings, instead just lumps some modern day romantic perceptions in a 1920s setting. Emma thus is enmeshed in Alex's semi-inspired literate/real world journey on his road to commitment, taking the shorthand and embodying the role of a mildly implausible and constantly re-written au pair in the pre-Depression world of Adam Shipley, Alex's sappy alter ego/protagonist. The only chuckle I got out of the film was Hudson's transformation from the Swedish Ylva to the red-hot German Elsa, then a Spanish Eldora, and finally the "emancipate me!" Philadelphian Anna. These women all cater to the children of Polina Delacroix (Sophie Marceau), a French divorcée in a financial crunch, yet game to entice the talented Mr. Shipley, hired on as the children's English tutor. David Paymer has a nonplussed role as a wealthy paramour intent on marrying the "ample bosomed" (another flatliner) Polina.

Frankly I can't see the honest love interest through the trees. It's all just so casual, without a real spark and laden with age old clichés that are supposedly to elicit laughter. Alex & Emma is a pretty soggy affair. Emma accidentally drops eighteen pages of Alex's novel on a rain-drenched street one night. I wish I could have dumped the entire movie the same way. Lord knows the weather has been favorably inclined to help.

Directed by:
Rob Reiner

Kate Hudson
Luke Wilson
Sophie Marceau
David Paymer
Rob Reiner
Francois Giroday
Lobo Sebastian
Chino Xl

Written by:
Jeremy Leven






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