A review of “Alex and Emma” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for light language and sexuality

Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

 

 

Even the most superhero-charged summer season begs for a romantic comedy.  This summer’s high-profile offering is a lightweight piece of fluff based loosely on Dostoyevsky’s “The Gambler”.

Opening gambit sets the stage for an uneven experience.  Luke Wilson (he of the magnificent lantern jaw) is Alex Sheldon, a writer cum incessant gambler who finds himself in a heap o’ trouble over an unpaid mafia bet.  While a pair of clichéd Cuban thugs dangles him over a five-story balcony, Alex begs for mercy and promises to complete his next novel in thirty days in order to refund his $100,000 debt.

Since the Cubans have trashed Alex’s laptop, he requires the immediate services of a stenographer. Enter Emma Dinsmore (Kate Hudson), a prim professional overflowing with attitude and opinions.  As Alex furiously dictates his novel to the forthright Emma, the literary action simultaneously unfolds onscreen, with Alex and Emma holding court in Boston circa 1924.

Alex doubles as Adam Shipley, an idealistic tutor madly in lust with his glamorous employer (Sophie Marceau).  Hudson fills in as the children’s au pair, a second-fiddle love interest vying for Adam’s vacillating affections. As Alex’s contemporary imagination unfolds, Emma see-saws between roles as a Swedish Ylva, a severe German Elsa, a flamboyantly Spanish Eldora, and finally the true-blue American Anna – a whimsical turn of thespianism.

The action swings back and forth between real time and fantasy, allowing the characters to fall in love on both sides of the page.  Rob Reiner exhibits none of the sentimental sleight-of-hand he demonstrated while helming “When Harry Met Sally” or “The American President”, punctuating his action with clunky dissolves and questionable taste. A mildly clever climactic twist is bogged down by fifteen superfluous minutes of desperate bathetic slush that kills the flow.

Despite a lukewarm couples chemistry, the engaging Wilson and Hudson light up the screen with their striking visages and winning smiles. Harmless, humdrum summer fun.