Emma (Hudson) likes to read the last page of a book
before starting from the beginning. If she likes the ending,
she knows she’ll like getting there. As a romantic comedy,
I knew the ending of Rob Reiner’s Alex &
Emma before I even watched it. But that didn’t necessarily
mean I enjoyed getting there.
The movie does have its highlights. Kate Hudson is absolutely
winning as always, and communicates her spunkiness with each
raise of the eyebrow and every wily grin. Luke Wilson
can be over-the-top with his portrayal of the gambling-addicted
writer, but he has fun with his character. It’s the script
that’s lacking, and the actors do their best with the material
Alex Sheldon (Wilson) is a novelist who has accumulated a
gambling debt of $100,000 to the Cuban Mafia. To get that
much money, Alex must finish his love-story novel and be paid
for it by his publisher (Reiner). However, not only does he
have writer’s block, but the impatient thugs ransack his apartment,
set his laptop aflame, and give him an ultimatum of 30 days
to get the money or else. Without typing equipment, Alex gets
the brilliant (I’m being sarcastic) idea of pretending he’s
a law firm seeking the assistance of a stenographer. Emma
Dinsmore shows up at his apartment with her shorthand typewriter,
realizes that no, this is definitely not a law firm, and walks
out despite Alex’s pleas. Why the screenwriters included the
illogical law firm façade is beyond me, except that it is
the basis for some comedic relief.
Conveniently for the movie, Emma forgets her scarf at Alex’s,
and when she goes back to retrieve it, she becomes more sympathetic
to Alex’s plight. Dictation of the novel starts off slow,
but when Emma threatens to leave, Alex instantly conjures
up his story: a love triangle set in 1924. Thus begins the
movie’s split into two semi-parallel worlds—the real and the
Alex and Emma inhabit the real world. He dictates, she types,
all with the time constraints of Cuban loan sharks looming
over their heads. Emma often disagrees with the way Alex’s
story is going, but is usually silenced by Alex’s argument
that he’s the writer and therefore gets to make up stuff the
way he wants to.
In the fictional world we have English tutor Adam Shipley
(also Wilson), who falls in love with the lovely but unattainable
Polina Delacroix (Marceau). To secure her financial
future, Polina is set to marry John Shaw (Paymer) a
wealthy man she does not love. Emma also reincarnates in this
fictional world, first as Polina’s Swedish au pair Ylva, then
is rewritten again and again (and again) until she finally
becomes the American Anna.
The love triangle occurs between Adam and John, over Polina,
but later includes Polina and Anna, over Adam. Meanwhile there
is a sort of triangle between Alex and Emma. It may sound
confusing, but it’s really not.
What bothers me about these love triangles is their believability.
Love triangles are supposed to be complicated. They involve
conflict, competition, hurt feelings. When these attributes
are watered down like they are in this movie, to make the
situations funnier perhaps, I have a hard time caring about
who ends up with whom.
At one point Alex looks up and asks Emma, “Who ARE you?”
He’s spent so much time with her but doesn’t know anything
about her past or what she’s really like; she’s like a stranger
to him. From the audience I could’ve asked the same thing
about both Emma and Alex, because by the end of the movie
they were still strangers to me. The two are a cute and sweet
couple, and their counterparts Adam and Anna provide a funny
juxtaposition, but it all just seemed too superficial.