Review: Alex & Emma

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )
Grade: C+

It appears that the tried-’n-true formula for romantic comedies is beginning to lose its sheen, and with it, critical support. Ten years ago, the sweet nature of a traditional, no frills attached, back-to-basics romance or romantic comedy would be hailed as an “achievement” everywhere, and in fact, it was (see: Sleepless in Seattle). Yet now, people seem to be tired of the traditional romantic comedy, perhaps because one right after another is hitting theaters at an alarming rate. Alex & Emma fits perfectly beside recent genre entries Two Weeks Notice and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and each is just one plot quirk removed from the others. Even though Alex & Emma boasts a surprisingly appealing two story structure, and has two very likable leads, its mistakes along the way lead to a mediocre effort.

Rob Reiner is one of the biggest names in the director business, and although he doesn’t have an Oscar to match, he is often compared to the likes of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese (also Oscar-less). He also has one of the most inconsistent resumes in the business. His films include such notable critical and financial successes as The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, This Is Spinal Tap, and of course, When Harry Met Sally. He is also the force behind such notable bombs as The Story of Us, North, and the campy Misery. After a five year sabbatical from the biz, he is back for Alex & Emma. I only wish his comeback picture could have been a little more...inventive.

As the uncreative title that screams “last resort” may suggest, the film centers around its romantic leads of Alex and Emma. Alex is a compulsive gambler, who is in debt $100,000 to the Cuban mafia. The mafia has given Alex 30 days to get the money, or its off with his head. The only way Alex can pay back the people he owes is by finishing his latest novel. Unfortunately, Alex is suffering from writer’s block. When the Cubans pay Alex a visit, its his computer which is terminated, and so he must higher a stenographer to type his book for him. When his stenographer, Emma, arrives, she is less than impressed by the fact that he said that he was a law firm. Eventually she decides to stay though, and the two start a working relationship. Alex is initially irritated by Emma’s constant suggestions, but eventually, they begin to discover feelings for one another.

This isn’t the only romance in Alex & Emma. As the two work on the story in “real life,” the character’s actions in the book that Alex is writing are acted out. The key character in his book is Adam Shipley, and he in love with a woman named Polina. When an American woman named Anna enters the story, things are shaken up for Adam, and he must choose between the woman he has been lusting after, and the easily attainable but loving Anna.

While the “fictional” tale between Adam, Polina, and Anna is more of a caricature than a true story, its colorful backdrop and its adjacent location to the romance between Alex and Emma is certainly charming. Kate Hudson plays several characters in this parallel story, including three different variations of the maid with three different nationalities. The reason for the fluctuation is because Alex in undecided in what kind of person the maid in his novel should be. This provides some of the most openly comical moments in the film.

I enjoyed the parallel romances of Alex & Emma very much. Yet just like in last summer’s Possession, problems occur in the development of one of the romances. Here, as it was in Possession, the problem occurs in the “real” romance of Alex and Emma. Rob Reiner’s heavy-handed directing of the romance prevents any visual romantic development between the two. Although Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson do their best to create sparks, and they do, I don’t believe the passion they are supposed to share for each other. In addition to that, screenwriter Jeremy Leven seemed to forget about Emma; we learn little to no background information on the character, which becomes painfully obvious especially as the movie draws to a close. Speaking of drawing the close, the ending of Alex & Emma must be dealt with. I have seen some pretty ridiculous finales, but this one has to rank near the top. The overblown final moments almost ruin the movie for me. I found myself rolling my eyes, as did everyone in the audience.

For anyone who likes romantic comedies, and basically for anyone who isn’t a die-hard cynic, Alex & Emma is an enjoyable feast of sugary cliches. Whether you like it or not though, you will likely come to the conclusion that it is in fact a rather ordinary lark. Alex & Emma goes to show that s original romantic comedies begin to surface less and less, and critical and financial support for the unoriginal ones begin to dwindle, Hollywood had better come up with a new way of producing romantic comedies and fast!

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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