How Do You Know

2011-02-21 11:25
How Do You Know
What it's about:

Lisa (played by Reese Witherspoon) a 30-something softball player, loses her spot on the national team for the Olympics, deemed past her prime by the new head coach. Unable to decide what course to follow after this shock, she decides to take her casual relationship with Major League baseball player Matty (Owen Wilson) to the next level while courting the attentions of George (Paul Rudd), a CEO who is going through his own career crisis.

What we thought:

As far as conventional romantic comedies go, they don’t get more bog-standard than the infuriatingly slow, dull and nonsensical How Do You Know – a movie so listless and directionless they even forgot to put a question mark at the end of the title.

Writer-director James L. Brooks, whose previous work includes tear-jerker Terms of Endearment , appears to have the disaffected 30-somethings in his sights as we're thrown head-first into a story about finding out who you are when the one thing that defines you is taken away. But that's just me being diplomatic: How Do You Know is actually in exercise in seeing how long an audience can sit through a story about people who are incredibly deaf, dumb and blind to their own inadequacies.

Reese Witherspoon tones down her comedic zing to almost zero as the whiny, and frankly unlikable Lisa – a woman who lives by self-help nuggets for the soul like, "If it's to be it's up to me" on little Post-It notes stuck all over her bathroom mirror. She is a child in a woman's body – headstrong and effusive but haplessly incapable of making any sense - of her life or the setback she's suffered. Determined not to crumble after losing her job, she just sort of floats along from one half-decision to the next – like moving in with a man she so obviously and utterly doesn’t love. What is any viewer meant to take away from that?

There's no denying that the foursome at the centre of this tale are usually very appealing and more-than capable in just about any role they've done recently, but here they've been saddled with a leaden script that seeks to smother any and all signs of life, or any joy, sadness, dismay… you know, emotion, the stuff that makes the movies worth our time in the first place. It's a very curious turn of events, considering the talent assembled.

Owen Wilson is perfectly cast as the goofy, easy-going Matty – it's the type of role he can play in his sleep – and he certainly comes across as the most likable of these nothing characters. Paul Rudd, as George, is the worst-served by the script as the confused corporate type who finds himself under federal investigation on fraud charges. Much is made of George's predicament, with lots of sympathetic hand-wringing on the part of his father (played by Jack Nicholson) and his faithful assistant, and yet it is quite easily the least interesting sub-plot of this meandering romantic comedy.

And what of the 'comedy' part of the deal? Well, How Do You Know boasts all of three scenes that could be construed as funny. George delivers a pretty great line about his mother leaving the family when he was a boy after watching Meryl Streep do the same in Kramer vs Kramer - and somehow, through lack of effort on the part of the directing - the moment falls hopelessly flat. These are characters who appear far too interested in the sound of their own thoughts tumbling out of their mouths. So many conversations between the characters (and there really are so many conversations) reminded me of the teenagers of Dawson's Creek and their battles to articulate meaning in their lives. It was whimsical then, it's exhausting when these grown-ups attempt it.

That How Do You Know was greenlit at all is a mystery. That it was gifted with a $120-million budget is downright offensive. I cannot even begin to identify where that money was spent. Jack Nicholson's cigars?

A futile exercise in seeing how long an audience can withstand characters so deaf, dumb and blind to their own inadequacies.
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