Alex And Emma Movie Review

We've seen enough romantic comedies to know how the formula works -- guy gets girl, guy loses girl, guy gets girl back. Because these films are so ridiculously predictable by nature, a successful romantic comedy will have to masquerade its obvious intentions behind a story that leads us to the obligatory ending in an unconventional way. And for two thirds of director Rob Reiner's Alex and Emma, the story cleverly disguises what we perceive, and gives us every indication we're witnessing something fresh. Unfortunately, the final third reverts back to the conventional, and the film falls dramatically short of its potential.

Alex Sheldon (Luke Wilson) is a budding novelist suffering from a severe case of writer's block that is holding him back from starting his book and getting the paycheck he desperately needs. Alex's debt collectors have given him only 30 days to complete his novel, collect the money, and pay of his gambling debt. Otherwise, Alex's life story will come to an end. Almost out of options, Alex convinces stenographer Emma Dinsmore (Kate Hudson) to quickly translate his thoughts to the written word. The story Alex tells pertains to a 1920s romantic triangle between grade school tutor Adam Shipley (also played by Wilson), the beautiful French matriarch (Sophie Marceau) of Shipley's charges, and the family au pair Anna (Hudson).

Alex and Emma is surprisingly effective early on as it seesaws between scenes of Alex and Emma bouncing story ideas off each other for the love affair they are writing. In time, numerous parallels begin to develop between the romance on the page and the budding real life relationship of Alex and Emma. For example, Hudson plays Anna in their story; this is not a coincidence. However, in an overtly obvious and completely unnecessary drive to help us weave the two romances together, Reiner gives us an obligatory "date" scene where Alex and Emma spend the day together strolling around Boston. When do they have time for love when the novel is due in one day, and Alex's life is at stake?

Once we finally reach the guy-loses-girl conflict, Reiner toys with us even more by inventing new characters and new directions for his film to take - just as Alex does with his novel. Of course, it also doesn't help that the character development is so thin that we never really have a sense for any of these characters. The last ten minutes of Alex and Emma are excruciatingly long as Reiner looks for the most satisfying, Princess Bride-like way to get himself out of the film's convoluted conclusion.

If Reiner had let the parallels between the past and present run their natural course, instead of force-feeding us, the ensuing romance between Alex and Emma would have been far more sweet and enduring. Wilson and Hudson hint at a possible chemistry, but this effort is severely undermined by Reiner's plot mechanics. Instead, a clever storytelling ploy is crushed by the preconceived notion that we can't figure things out for ourselves. Alex and Emma is insulting to our intelligence, and in my mind, both stories need significant re-writing.

Reiner and Wilson offer a joint commentary track on the DVD, the film's sole extra.

How to write a script in 10 days.


Alex And Emma Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2003


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