Alex and Emma

Starring:
  • Hollywood's Newest "It" Girl (We Guess)
  • The Blander Wilson Brother
  • Meathead

 

 
Directed by Former Director Rob Reiner

"Wow, I didn't realize Owen and I have the same weed connection as the Black Crowes."

Lazy Filmmaking

I'm very curious about the Literary Hitmen who bust into Luke Wilson's apartment and set fire to his laptop. Alex and Emma gives us no explanation, but I've got to believe that in the current climate of author-worship that publishing companies have to resort to drug-dealer tactics just to get these bastards to meet a deadline. Really, haven't we cultivated this myth of the reclusive genius long enough? I think it's about time we started hiring vicious hitmen to bust into writer's apartments to threaten their lives and set fire to their laptops—under that kind of pressure, perhaps Ms. E. Annie Proulx wouldn't ramble on two-hundred pages too long about Quoyle's goddamn knots. In fact, I think it an imperative that, for the good of American prose, publishing companies start hiring Colombian drug lords to bust into Cormac McCarthy's ranch house and threaten to cut his balls off.

These are the things you think about during Rob Reiner's stultifying, half-ass Alex and Emma. Alex and Emma is a take on a Anton Chekhov story in which a writer is given deadline else he'll be killed, so he hires a stenographer to type the story as he dictates; they fall in love when the writer discovers his muse as he explores the meaning of love in his fiction. Of course, this plot is a tough sell in these modern times, but logic is not going to stop Rob Reiner, who solves its problems as Donald Kaufman would: He throws two cute people in front of the camera and lets them mug through impossible set-ups.

That might work as romantic comedy version of The 3, but here, the leads are too interested in being cute than interesting. Luke Wilson's shtick works in Old School because Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn require a straight man, but here, the romance needs some sort of spark. Kate Hudson is spunky enough, I guess, but I can't get a handle on this Alex guy. Wilson's dullard-nice guy persona plays nicely in Charlie's Angels because the joke is that we're supposed to believe that a stay-at-home like Pete catches an action girl like Natalie. But the joke in Charlie's Angels is the problem with Alex and Emma. Alex is a Wal-Mart romance writer with a mediocre personality, so why do we care if he hooks up with Emma? She can't be too interesting, else we can't buy the relationship; but if she's not interesting either, then why should we care about this relationship at all? As Alex informs us, "I know the characters, and they tell me where the story goes." But if the characters are static, then the story doesn't go anyway either.

In fact, I think we're supposed to sense that Alex's book is pretty mediocre. Which is fine, but this notion isn't played for humor; we're just supposed to accept mediocrity and that's that. This happens to be the same terms on which we're to take this movie. But wouldn't it be much more interesting if this manic set-up was played closer to the fringe? For instance, with just a month to write his book, couldn't Alex have been flustered into writing something uncalculated, with Emma there to infuse the passion, and thus he accidentally comes up with something ground-breaking? Couldn't it have been about the madness of the artistic process?

No, that's not Rob Reiner has in mind. We're just supposed to accept that Alex is a dispassionate writer and this is a dispassionate film. I could barely believe my ears when I heard Rob Reiner tell his writer, "You have a major talent, but you're pissing it away" while drinking scotch in a bathrobe—but, ultimately, that's the truest insight into his artistic process in the whole film. Reiner has just given up and decided to cash in on the legacy of When Harry Met Sally, certainly the best romantic comedy since Annie Hall. Harry and Sally are both title-worthy because they are complex, interesting characters in a complex, interesting situation that requires them to navigate emotions they've not confronted before; Reiner puts us through the wringer such to earn his "destiny" ending. He even bumpers different scenes with "interviews" of older couples who enjoy love in their waning years, telling tales of hardship and love's "destiny." The message is not that love is some mystical union of fate, though fate (or luck) introduces them, but forgiveness and sincerity ultimately triumph over heartache. This transcendent understanding arises from a relationship's hardships; the tougher the trials, the tighter the glue that holds them together over the long haul. That's why we believe it when Harry and Sally end up sharing a loveseat of their own: Genuine intrigue in each other's personality moves them to explore each other's emotions so deeply. When Harry Met Sally is a tense movie that teeters on the tragic, yet keeps the audience interested by the wit of the characters. We know why Harry can't let Sally go: She proved, beyond any shadow of doubt, that women can fake it. In a restaurant. In front of God and everybody.

The fake orgasm scene is more than just a temporary release of Sally's repressed free-spirit; it punctures Harry's inflated sexual ego. Compare that multi-layered effect to a similar love-in-bloom scene in Alex and Emma: Kate Hudson throws a football about ten yards to some kid in the park. Wow, that is free-spirited—had this been a Miramax movie, at least they could have brought in Ashley Judd or Kate Winslet to make out with Kate. Another scene comparison compounds the point: Harry and Sally are at the mall, where Harry finds a karoke machine, and busts into a few lines of Oklahoma! right there in the store. Sally is amused, so, despite her horrible singing voice, she jumps into the serenade. Then she spots her ex-boyfriend at the counter and confronts him. He wears an expensive suit under his wool trench coat, sporting a young blonde on his arm. He is uptight and upwardly mobile, but we see immediately that Sally saw him as security and was probably more concerned with not embarrassing herself and "driving him away" than being the witty, funny girl he met. When her performance as his girlfriend no longer measured up to his vanity, he dumped her. As the audience, we see what she doesn't: Harry is a deeply flawed individual, but she doesn't have to perform for him out of vanity; she performs for him (in the restaurant, in the mall) because she's not really performing at all. There's no pretension, just Harry in a flannel shirt with his sleeves rolled up singing show tunes in the mall. Of course Harry is unworthy of her at this point, so the story continues...the point is that we get all of this, and more, from just one damn scene.

That's called "writing," my friends—something Rob Reiner movies used to be interested in: Remember a little Oscar-winner called Misery? But in Alex and Emma, Reiner develops the same plot construct thusly: Alex is talking to his ex-girlfriend at an outdoor cafe; Emma sees them, calls him an asshole, gets on a bus, and Reiner throws on a melancholy pop song. Most indicative of lazing storytelling is substituting pop songs for dialogue, pretty much telling the audience that your characters have nothing interesting to say. Alex and Emma's big fall-in-love afternoon is set to some pop song, probably Jewell or Sheryl Crow; I don't remember and that's the point. Emma's cute and that's all the insight she has: Her literary advice on "heaving bosoms" is like using the Oprah Book Club as your test audience. She's no Sally, Mr. Reiner; that's the truth, and if you think otherwise...YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

The Pitch:
 
1 When Harry Met Sally
Plus
 
Donald Kaufman
Equals
   
1 Alex and Emma
See It For:

Rob chastises Luke for not being "Jewish enough" for his brand of romantic comedy.