Alex & Emma has probably one of the most forced premises for a romantic comedy ever made. Alex Sheldon (Luke Wilson) a writer down on his luck seems to have gotten himself into a sticky situation owing $100 000 to the Cuban mafia. His salvation is his latest novel which if he can get past his debilitating writer's block and finish in 30 days will give him the cash he needs. Just like that. After said Cubans inconveniently destroy his laptop Alex desperately tries to talk temp stenographer Emma Dinsmore (Kate Hudson) into taking dictation. Even though he can't pay her she agrees because she is intrigued by this mess of a man. Hmm. The film gets only marginally better when Alex begins to carve out his heartfelt story of Adam Shipley (Wilson) a romantic young writer who in 1924 has been hired to tutor the children of Polina Delacroix (Sophie Marceau). Even though this chic gorgeous French woman is only looking to marry someone with money Adam falls for her anyway. Gradually with the astute Emma acting as his muse Alex's love story (which we watch unfold on-screen in movie-within-movie fashion) soon turns into a love a triangle between Adam Polina and Polina's au pair--known in various incarnations as the stern Swede Ylva Elsa the bawdy German Eldora the Spanish beauty--and finally the most meaningful the down-to-earth American Anna (Hudson). As real life begins to imitate art Alex/Adam realizes Emma/Anna is the right girl for him. But is it too late?
In an ordinary world a seemingly smart young woman like Emma would never in a million years decide to spend an entire 30 days of her life with a guy who isn't paying her a dime just because she thinks he's kinda cute. In a movie world however it could be plausible if there happen to be immediate sparks between the two actors where the audiences can just feel the chemistry oozing off the screen and allow themselves to suspend their disbelief for a couple of hours. Unfortunately Hudson and Wilson are nowhere near that point in Alex & Emma; they fizzle rather than sizzle. Likable everyguy Wilson (Legally Blonde) and the infectiously cute Hudson (How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days) each have had their shining moments as romantic stars but the two end up struggling with an awful script and are not able to rise above the material. Wilson seems uncomfortable as Alex especially when he's playing him as a neurotic hypochondriac with writer's block. Hudson who has proven herself to be an adroit comedienne and has some bright moments playing the au pair with a variety of wacky accents mostly suppresses her characteristic effervescence and Emma ends up as drab as her hair color. The only one who stands out is Marceau as Polina simply because she gets to play someone over the top and look beautiful at the same time.
Director/co-writer Rob Reiner who's had a lot of luck guiding talented actors into fabulous on-screen romantic couplings (John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga in The Sure Thing Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally) misses the opportunity to utilize his Alex & Emma stars in the best way. Playing their alternate characters within Alex's novel Wilson and Hudson generate at least a little more steam than they do as their boring present-day personas. Yet the most frustrating thing about watching Alex & Emma is seeing its potential to be a better film go down the drain. Even though the premise is weak the core of the film is fairly interesting. To have a writer find his muse and then have them sculpt a novel together seems like it could be fun especially if the muse is an irritating but dead-on critic whose constant suggestions to change things are seen continually incorporated into the novel. For example there's a moment in the film when Polina asks Adam if he would murder her sugar daddy for her so they could be together à la Double Indemnity. But as instantly as this potentially great plot twist pops up it's immediately squashed. Certainly the world of the novel is far more entertaining than the rest of the film. It's just too bad no one else involved in the movie's making recognized it.