Alex & Emma

2003, Movie, PG-13, 105 mins


Very loosely based on the circumstances surrounding the writing of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Gambler, this romantic comedy gets off to a slow and oddly pitched start before settling into its own pleasant groove. Suffering from severe writer's block, Boston-based novelist Alex Sheldon (Luke Wilson) is being hounded by the Cuban loan sharks tired of waiting for him to pay off his substantial gambling debt. He could come up with the cash by delivering his newest novel into his editor, but that would mean writing it in a matter of 30 days. The thugs work Sheldon over and destroy his laptop, so he decides his best chance to beat the deadline is to hire a stenographer and dictate the tome. Enter no-nonsense Emma Dinsmore (Kate Hudson), who's convinced to take the gig by the last sentence of Alex's first book, "Love Means Always Having to Say You're Sorry." Despite his reservations about working with someone who turns to the last page of a book first, Alex accepts Emma's services. As Alex spins his tale, the fictitious characters come to life: In the 1920s, author Adam Shipley (Wilson again) accepts a tutoring job with a New England family, and is instantly smitten with his employer, Polina Delacroix (Sophie Marceau). Emma finds the "love at first sight" plot trite and regularly interrupts Alex to interject her opinions. Lovelorn Adam discovers that Polina is in dire financial straits and prepared to make a loveless marriage. Hoping to make himself appealing to Polina, he tries to improve his finances through gambling, but instead loses his life savings and turns to Polina's au pair (Hudson again) for advice. Alex keeps changing the au pair's nationality and appearance to reflect his growing ease with Emma, and his counterpart begins to fall in love with Ylva-Elsa-Eldora-Anna, undermining his quest to win Polina. Hudson and Wilson share a natural and easy chemistry that helps compensate for the Cuban-mobster subplot. It's an essential part of the story's artificial set up, but meshes awkwardly with the literary chatter and scenic beauty, and the filmmakers seem to have forgotten it by the time the dual romances are in full swing. The film's disjointed beginning notwithstanding, director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Jeremy Levin's charming lead characters are quirky without degenerating to the vulgarity and over-the-top nuttiness that mar such recent romantic comedies as TWO WEEKS NOTICE (2002) and JUST MARRIED (2003). leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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