Alex & Emma
am getting more and more depressed about Rob Reiner's directing career.
For the first decade he spent behind the camera, I felt that he was quite
simply the best director of popular films. Reiner had a Midas touch,
every film he made was not simply good, but damned near perfect examples of
Hollywood storytelling. He started out in 1983 with the classic "mockumentary"
This Is Spinal Tap. His follow-up was the romantic comedy
The Sure Thing, which still to this day is my favorite film ever.
After that Reiner showed an astounding taste and skill and an impressive
range of topics. He filmed a terrific nostalgic film (Stand By Me),
a wonderful fantasy (The Princess Bride), a disturbing thriller
(Misery), the template for romantic comedy of the 90s (When Harry Met
Sally) and a near perfect courtroom drama (A Few Good Men).
The first chink in
his armor appeared with the startlingly misjudged "black comedy" North
in 1994. Since then, Reiner has lost his way, being the guiding
force behind other sadly artless films The Ghosts of Mississippi and
The Story of Us, with only the fantastic political comedy The
American President living up to Reiner's former promise.
Emma continues the downward slide. It is a romantic comedy that is
neither romantic nor comic, a tribute to literature that is not literate or
even well written. Part of the
problem is that the storyline seems kind of ridiculous, even though it is
apparently loosely based on an episode from the life of Russian novelist
Fyodor Dostoevsky. Luke Wilson plays
Alex Sheldon, a hot, hip young novelist who gets involved with toughs and
ends up owing $100,000.00. The only way he can save his own life is to
write his next book in thirty days to make that much on the advance for his
book. Apparently, not having time to get a word processor, he hires
Emma Dinsmore, a sweet but slightly uptight woman, to essentially take his
book in dictation.
From here, the film flits back and forth between
real life and acting out the novel. Now, first
of all, for a cutting edge young novelist, this story seems like a pretty
stagy and clichéd romantic drama.
(I'm not going to even get
into little publishing points like the chances of getting a $100,000 advance
site-unseen on a novel, or the amount of time it takes for a publisher to
actually get payment to an author.) As Alex and Emma get to
know each other, they start getting into cutesy arguments about whether or
not the heroine's breasts should be heaving. Then Emma starts exuding
an influence on the manuscript, eventually showing
up as different characters in the book.
This is all supposed to lead us to
believe the two characters are falling in love. Which is good to know,
because Wilson and Hudson, while perfectly likable by themselves, generate
absolutely no chemistry or heat.
Gorgeous French actress Sophie Marceau is once again misused by Hollywood in
the role of the original romantic heroine for the book. (At least in
this film David Spade didn't kidnap her dog like in Lost & Found.)
The movie keeps stumbling towards its inevitable conclusion long after the
audience has lost interest on the silly period piece details of the novel
and the people responsible for writing it. In theory, it could be a
fertile idea for a film... the concept of the unpredictability of the
written word and how characters grow and expand into directions a novelist
had not considered. Sadly, this film doesn't mine these possibilities
nearly deeply enough.
I still hold out hope that
Rob Reiner can get his career back on track, but Alex & Emma isn't
going to do the trick.
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Posted: June 29, 2003.