Kate Hudson is so irresistibly charming that it is easy to forget how tepid and uninspired this movie is. It is always a delight to see Hudson’s saucer-eyed smile and impeccable timing, but it would be just as entertaining to watch a 90-minute documentary of Hudson shopping for groceries.
“Alex and Emma” gives us two stories, neither especially romantic nor comic. Luke Wilson, believably seedy but not a believeable leading man, plays Alex, a successful novelist who is into some very mean loan sharks for $100,000 in gambling debts. He has just 30 days to get them the money, and the only way to do that is to complete his novel and get the rest of the advance from the publisher. The problem is that he has not started.
He hires a stenographer named Emma (Hudson) so he can dicate the entire novel to her. As he tells her the story of a love triangle set in the 1920’s (with characters also played by Hudson and Wilson), the story in the book both reflects and influences the relationship between the writer who is telling the story and the woman who is listening and writing it down.
Alex tells Emma that he does not need to know where his story is going because the characters will take over. This was probably wishful thinking on the part of the four screenwriters behind this movie (including director Rob Reiner), because its first big problem is that the story — in fact, both stories — just keep stalling. Maybe that is because these people are not really characters, just collections of quirks and quips.
All romantic comedies have a fairy tale quality, so an element of fantasy is not just expected, but welcome. And it is not only acceptable in fairy tales for people to behave foolishly or to fail to ask simple questions; it feels psychologically true as a metaphor for the irrationality of falling in love. But this movie topples from fantasy to carelessness, abandoning the most basic elements of reasonableness in a way that is just sloppy. If Reiner wants to appear as the publisher-cum-fairy-godfather, that’s fine. But absent some sort of magic wand, it is preposterous to the point of lack of respect for the audience to expect us to go along with the movie’s set-up, from Alex’s on-again-off-again gambling problem, writer’s block, and romantic entanglements to the basic facts of how writers, editors, and publishers operate.
Parents should know that the movie has sexual references and situations, including a comic but graphic sexual encounter with partial nudity that is strong for a PG-13. Characters have sex without any meaningful commitment. Characters drink and use strong language. There is peril and violence in a comic context but constituting a genuine threat and a death (from natural causes) that is played for grisly humor.
Families who see this movie should talk about differences between love “with laundry” and without. When you feel attracted to more than one person, how do you decide? When you have been hurt, how do you know when to forgive?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Kirk Douglas in “My Dear Secretary,” about another author with writer’s block who hires a pretty secretary. They will also enjoy seeing Hudson’s equally adorable mother, Goldie Hawn, in a better romantic comedy that is also set in a seedy apartment with a bed that is reached by a ladder, “Butterflies are Free.” And every family should try to see the delightful musical “Bells Are Ringing,” about a woman who helps a writer get back to work.