Alex and Emma

By Kim Hollis

July 8, 2003

Kate Hudson laughs hysterically at Luke Wilson's ridiculous lumberjack shirt.

Alex and Emma is a romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor funny.

With the talent involved, this project was one that seemed as though it ought to have all the potential in the world to be a decent sleeper hit. Despite the fact that he’s not a singular box office draw, Luke Wilson does have a certain “aw shucks” charisma about him that makes him an appealing leading man. Co-star Kate Hudson, fresh off a solid financial success in genre cousin How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, clearly has her fair share of fans and is fondly remembered for her breakout performance in Almost Famous. Director Rob Reiner has had plenty of experience with rom-coms in the past, with stuff like The American President, When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride, and the under-rated The Sure Thing all filling out his resume. The story on which the film is based even has an impressive pedigree, as it is loosely adapted from the Fyodor Dostoevsky short story The Gambler.

Rarely has a movie ever added up to so much less than the sum of its parts.

The general gist of the story is that Luke Wilson (this movie is so bad that I can’t even get motivated to remember character names) is a novelist who is indebted to some Cuban loan sharks. He doesn’t pay them back in an acceptable time frame, so they come to collect, dangling him out the window a la Kevin Kline and John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda. He promises them that he will be finishing his next novel within 30 days, and will be able to pay them back once he receives payment for his work. The bad dudes reluctantly accept, but burn Luke Wilson’s laptop (yes, the laptop on which he was writing the novel) as a sort of warning. Clearly these are some sort of genius loan sharks who would rather kill than get paid.

So, in an elaborate ruse, Luke Wilson tries to hire a stenographer to take dictation so that he will be able to finish the book on time. Enter Kate Hudson, a dour, obnoxious, unpleasant, know-it-all who only agrees to do the job because she accidentally leaves her scarf in Luke Wilson’s apartment. You might assume that cute hijinks would ensue, but you’d be so very, very wrong.

Instead, what happens is that Kate Hudson slowly transcribes the book, which is awful, offering her criticisms, which don’t help matters much. As Luke Wilson dictates the story, the film switches to that alternate book universe, with Luke Wilson himself as the hero. This character is a tutor who goes to a fictional island to teach some French children the English language. Upon his arrival, he immediately falls in love with their mother Sophie Marceau for some reason. She returns his affections but has financial problems that require her to marry David Paymer. The fourth member of the triangle (just go with me) is Kate Hudson, who plays the Swedish German Spanish American au pair to the children. As the book’s story unfolds, of course, the real-life counterparts of Alex and Emma inexplicably develop feelings for one another and they have the inevitable fight that leads to the inevitable kissing and making up. It’s all set to a musical score that is so horrid that it drives one to distraction - though of course in the case of Alex and Emma, distraction isn’t all bad.

There’s not one actor or character in the movie that is appealing. Luke Wilson is boring, stiff and pompous, his author character steeped in every single cliché one could possibly apply to the profession. Kate Hudson, who looks better as a blonde, is possibly one of the least likable female leads ever to grace the scene of a romantic comedy. It’s like she watched a bunch of Meg Ryan movies but understood none of that actress’ charm and cuteness. Put the two together and it is definitely not a happy “your chocolate is in my peanut butter” situation. In fact, I’d almost believe that each individual performer is interacting with a blue screen rather than a real person.

And then there’s Sophie Marceau. It would seem to be impossible to misuse someone of her allure and soft talent, but Alex and Emma manages to turn her into an ugly, shrewish, selfish diva. It would be difficult to conceive that Luke Wilson would fall in love with her except that he’s such a twit that I’d buy him falling for Kathie Lee Gifford if asked to do so.

David Paymer is barely in the film, but believe me when I tell you that you’re just supposed to accept him as the cad here. Never mind the fact that Sophie Marceau cares for nothing but cold hard cash and therefore should be happy to have David Paymer sweep her off her feet and provide for her for the rest of her life. He’s just a bad dude because Luke Wilson says so.

As far as the direction goes, it basically appears that Reiner is furtively taking every scene and quirk he used in When Harry Met Sally (Luke Wilson is a hypochondriac; Kate Hudson goes to the last page first when reading novels) and filtering it through a tedious gray cloud. I’m only surprised he didn’t throw in a cute puppy, hamster or guinea pig to liven things up a bit.

If the whole thing sounds ludicrous, that’s because the entire movie plays out in a never-ending nonsensical manner. It’s like Adaptation all over again, but without the obnoxious overacting from Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper. Instead of being simply dreadfully bad like that film was, Alex and Emma is just blah - drab, dull and dumb. Shame on Luke Wilson, shame on Kate Hudson, shame on Rob Reiner, but most of all, shame on Warner Bros for unleashing this drivel into theaters rather than releasing it straight to the video bargain bin where it belongs.

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