ALEX AND EMMA
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson, Sophie Marceau, David Paymer, Rob Reiner
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content and some language)
Running Time: 1:36
Release Date: 6/20/03
Review by Mark Dujsik
I’d like to get mad at Alex and Emma. I’d like to get mad at the fact that it forgoes character and centers around a gimmick. I’d like to get mad at the fact that it expects its audience to want these people to fall in love, even though we know nothing about them. I’d like to get mad at the fact that it only presents two unlikable characters—one obnoxious, one clichéd—to connect with. I’d like to get mad at the way it forcibly tosses in little bits character information to try and make these people, if not sympathetic, then at least, bearable. I’d like to get mad at its voice-over narration—bland and boring. I’d like to get mad at its setup—unlikely and strained. I’d like to get mad at those responsible for making it, which include—I kid you not—four screenwriters (Jeremy Leven, Adam Scheinman, Andy Scheinman, and director Rob Reiner). I’d like to get mad; honestly, I would. But I simply cannot. I cannot produce emotion when thinking about Alex and Emma. I can only remember thinking two things as I watched. I don’t care. Why should I care?
Alex Sheldon (Luke Wilson) is having some problems. He borrowed some money from some undesirables, and now, they want it back with interest. The problem: He gambled it all away. The solution: Once he finishes his next book, he’ll get a nice $125,000 check. The problem: He’s got a severe case of writer’s block. Well, that and the loan sharks have destroyed his laptop and given him a thirty-day deadline before he ends up dead. The solution: He sends out an ad for a stenographer (I learn the idea is based on something that happened to Dostoyevsky, but still, he has no way to access a computer or a typewriter, for that matter?). The problem: The stenographer is Emma Dinsmore (Kate Hudson), an obnoxiously opinionated employee who doesn’t seem to realize the seriousness of Alex’s predicament. At first, she sanely thinks Alex slightly shady, but soon enough, she’s plunking away the keys as Alex dictates his novel bit by grueling bit. It’s got something to do with a writer who is hired to tutor a rich woman’s children and falls in love with her. Of course, it mirrors a lot of Alex’s situation and becomes the impetus for an eventual romance between him and Emma.
The movie alternates between Alex and Emma writing the novel and the acting out of the novel, complete with voice-over. There’s an obvious problem with this structure, especially as it’s handled by the screenplay. First of all, the script spends equal, if not more, time filling out the story of Alex’s novel as it does developing Alex and Emma’s relationship. We don’t get to know them and have no reason to care whether or not they end up together in the end. The little information we do get either comes from the recitation of the book or in brief little snippets. Take, for example, Emma’s random comment about her family’s history. Her mother is dead, and her father is most likely the same. It comes, oddly enough, just around the time that we start realizing how annoying her character is. It’s obviously there to make her character sympathetic. Since it’s so transparent, though, it doesn’t work. Other attempts include a sequence in which the two go out on the town for a day, despite the looming deadline. An unlikely scenario, but it also loses its potential for expanding these characters by eventually turning into a pointless montage.
The story of the novel itself is far less than satisfying. At a certain point, we realize just how typical it is, complete with rich suitors and a love triangle that comes only out of necessity. Alex is inflating his writing and plot, and it’s obvious. There’s nothing going on here. The prose is clunky and boring, and the filmed reinterpretation, because it focuses so much on Alex’s voice-over, is equally clumsy. The events in the book are supposed to mirror Alex’s back story and show how his attitude toward Emma is changing by the way her character equivalent changes. So instead of just telling communicating these points, we only get ambiguous hints. We have no idea who this Polina (Sophie Marceau) woman is, but we’re supposed to care later when she shows up and upsets Emma, causing the obligatory fight between the lovers. There’s nothing behind their relationship or the relationship between Alex and Polina that allows us to care what happens or to comprehend why Emma makes such a big deal over their all-day meeting or what about the two even constitutes their having an all-day meeting in the first place.I just keep coming to those two things as I sit here writing about Alex and Emma. If it had been one screenwriter involved here, I’d like to make some sort of Adaptation-like connection with the writer and the screenplay, but no, there are still four. I still can’t get past that. Four people worked on this, and not one of them thought that maybe there was something wrong.
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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