I will admit that I went into "Alex & Emma" with great hesitation, but came out with a renewed feeling of surprisement. Here's a film that got bad word of mouth from press screenings and essentially flopped -- but I enjoyed it. It's not as clever a contrast between the sexes as "When Harry Met Sally...," and it's not quite as fun as "Sleepless in Seattle." But, for all it's worth, I consider one of the better romantic comedies of 2003.
Luke Wilson is Alex, a genius writer living in a crusty apartment in Manhattan. He has thirty days to write a full-length work of fiction and turn it into his publisher for over one hundred grand, otherwise the Cuban Mafia is going to hunt him down and kill him. Why? He owes them 100,000 dollars of his income.
Kate Hudson is Emma, a stenographer hired by Alex to transcribe his words onto paper, since his laptop was smashed up by the Cubans. She begins the job with hesitation and offers helpful advice from a reader's perspective throughout the process.
Meanwhile, we get a story-within-a-story when the film moves from Alex's world to Adam's, the subject of Alex's novel. Adam (Wilson) is heading to the fictional island of St. Charles, located near Maine. I missed why he was coming in the first place because I have a short attention span, but it had something to do with collecting a payment.
When he arrives, he meets a beautiful French woman (Sophie Marceau) and the man who wants to marry her (David Paymer). The only problem is that he finds himself falling for her, too. And the woman's servant, Ylsa, or Illsa, or...I forget, they kept changing her name, from Swedish to German to Latino to American. I don't remember who she finally turned out to be. Let's just say Ylsa ("spelled the way it sounds," Alex says), also played by Kate Hudson.
Life parallels fiction. Of course, I guessed the "surprise" twist of it all about a mile away. But that didn't matter, because this is a pretty funny movie. There are some great one-liners and little gags, especially for writers. It spoofs the process of it all. Of course, if you view the movie with a critical eye you'll find many flaws. (Roger Ebert pointed out that Alex, when dictating, never seems to pause to find words and never messes up sentences, but hey...it's a movie, how interesting would it be if he just kept starting his sentences over and over?)
But some of the jokes are very funny. For example, during his writing process, Emma interrupts to tell Alex that the name "Ylsa" is not spelled the way it sounds. He says it is. She says it would be, "Ilsa." He disagrees. So in his book, he makes the character Adam ask how it is spelled, and he has Ylsa, respond, "Y-l-s-a, spelled just how it sounds."
Rob Reiner takes a small role as Alex's publisher. When writing out his check to Alex he says, "Now, is it made out to Cuban Mafia or The Cuban Mafia?" I love this stuff. Reiner has directed some great films in his past ("This is Spinal Tap," "The Princess Bride," "When Harry Met Sally," "A Few Good Men," am I missing any?). He has directed another winner.
I really don't understand this film's negative reviews. Okay, so it isn't the most original film to come along in years, but what film is?Compared to so many other "romantic comedies," this one made me laugh. A lot more than I thought I would. After starting to grow weary of Luke Wilson after seeing his smug role in "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde," I was surprised by his turn here. He's getting back to his roots. Kate Hudson (daughter of Goldie Hawn) has yet to really surprise me in any way, but she's not too bad.
When I occasionally enjoy a movie that got bad reviews, I can usually see why the movie got them. Here, on the other hand, I can not really see what the problem is. It's got a simple premise, a cute story, engaging leads, and an interesting story with more than a handful of laughs. I laughed less at last year's "The Hot Chick" and that was considered a comedy. So is this a bad movie? No, I don't think so. Not at all. But, apparently, many people do. It's too bad.
Note: There's a direct reference to "When Harry Met Sally..." in this film. Emma says she always turns to the last page of a book before she reads it. If you recall, Billy Crystal said the same thing one time back in 1989.
3/4 stars -
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