How Do You Know Directed by: James L. Brooks Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson Running Time: 1 hr 53 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: December 17, 2010
PLOT: An Olympian softball athlete (Witherspoon) is torn between two men: the successful but sleazy Matty (Wilson) or the sweet but federally-investigated George (Rudd).
WHO'S IT FOR? There might be enough sex and Paul Rudd to reign in the younger crowds, but older moviegoers more acclimated to James L. Brooks might be best prepared. Fans of Jack Nicholson will feel short-changed.
EXPECTATIONS: Recently, Rudd and Wilson especially have been digging themselves into on-screen persona role holes, and Witherspoon has been a bit MIA from the movie marquees. The inclusion of Jack Nicholson provides a bit of optimism that this could be a clever comedy like As Good As It Gets, but the latest title from the director who also brought Spanglish suggests otherwise.
Reese Witherspoon as Lisa: Her "career" as a professional softball player is the most interesting aspect about her. She's a woman down in her dumps, and looking for the right man to listen to her. Notice how I didn't say Prince Charming - it seems that any of them can win her over by just listening to her. Witherspoon doesn't make for a charming romantic lead. If anything, her character might even be kind of sad. Score: 4
Paul Rudd as George: One could argue that Rudd really got our attention as a romantic lead with I Love You, Man, and at the same time we could also say that he played the exact same character months ago in Dinner for Schmucks. But he’s not the Owen Wilson of comedies just yet. He’s a bit of a goofy neurotic than usual here. For example, he literally runs away from his father (played by Nicholson) when bad news is about to be revealed. A helpless character on the fringe of going to jail for wire fraud, it’s an amusing, more mellowed out performance, without an overbearing amount of familiar Rudd-ness (though he is given an entire solo sequence to sing “Turn Off the Lights.” Score: 5
Owen Wilson as Matty: A true baseball “player,” Wilson continues to embody despicable but wannabe pitiful characters that spew cheesy poetic phrases like “I’m putting my foot in the trap.” His nice guy logic is grossly backwards, as clearly there is nothing going on the inside for a dumb jock who only has the blue eyes and a broken nose to grab those from the outside. In short, he’s a douchebag, and incredibly so. I worry for those who would consider Wilson’s character (or someone like him in the real world) to be a viable “love interest.” It’s disappointing that this story would seriously toy with such a notion. Score: 3
Jack Nicholson as Charles: With maybe fifteen minutes of total screen time, Nicholson is good for a couple of giggles and a single good monologue. His character arc unsurprising, he has fair chemistry with his on-screen son Rudd, which helps because they don’t look related at all. Score: 4
TALKING: Lisa is a "glass half-full" individual who surrounds herself with motivational tidbits that she spouts often, but she isn’t the only character that Brooks uses to dole out wisdom. It’s everybody. From George’s “Don’t rock the boat” to Lisa’s shrink’s “Figure out what you want, and learn how to ask for it,” it seems that everyone lives by certain philosophies. The rest of the dialogue is fairly good, with climactic moments of romance only flirting with cheesiness, instead of giving in. I’m still not sure George’s “Play-Doh” speech works. Score: 6
SIGHTS: Washington D.C isn't given a romantic edge as often as it probably should, but How Do You Know makes a little effort to change that. Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg's right-hand cinematographer, is the director of photography this round. He provides interesting angles only when he's shooting inside Rudd's office, or doing close-ups on the characters during personal moments that traditionally call for more distance between camera and character. Score: 5
SOUNDS: Rudd is heard singing "Turn Off the Lights" by Todd Pendergrass three different times, (including a coda after the credits). Hans Zimmer's score provides a slightly jazzy main motif that chimes in to color a few "romantic" moments. The rest of the score feels more complementary than stand-out, and everything follows expected cues. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: The biggest laugh might come from George's emergency escape tactics, as he bolts from his father down the street like a frightened dog.
ENDING: A happy ending, in the sense that people are content with the choices they've made.
QUESTIONS: Whose idea was it for the two women to walk by after they got on the bus? If it doesn’t mean anything, then why did that have to happen at all?
REWATCHABILITY: No thanks.
No matter how many motivational posters might be crammed into the movie’s dialogue, the film treads shallow waters when it comes to discussing love or even romance. With all of these cheerful nuggets, it’s like the movie yearns to be quoted and re-watched multiple times. But this isn’t As Good As It Gets.
Perhaps the movie’s title is lacking a question mark because the inquiry is actually rhetorical. But really, there is no difficulty to answer How Do You Know here – it’s clearly Rudd. Instead of challenging its audience to pick between two decent guys (a much more interesting concept), we have to wait patiently for a poor girl to come to her senses. How Do You Know is not so much romantic as it is relieving in the sense that it offers this hopeful piece of wisdom: “Douchebags don’t always get the happy ending.”
FINAL SCORE: 4/10