How Do You Know
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson, Andrew Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Dean Norris, Yuki Matsuzaki, Molly Price
NYU, Class of 2012
"I am nobody's little weasel." -Amelie, from Amelie
How Do You Know
Review By: Angela Char
You know when people tell you that a film was good, but it was only good because they weren’t expecting much? Well, How Do You Know is that film. It’s a film that has been generally panned by critics everywhere (with the notable exception of TIME’s Richard Corliss). Most of these negative reviews mention that James Brooks, the director of How Do You Know, conceived of such gems as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Terms of Endearment, and As Good as It Gets. Most of these critics are disappointed with Brooks. It must have been hard to find quotes for the DVD cover. But I think, and I mean this in the most complimentary sense possible, that if you watched this movie with no conception of who James Brooks is, or what a romantic comedy should be, or even how a love story should be told, that you would very much enjoy yourself.
That the cast is loaded with top-notch stars raises expectations even more. And they’re not bad. They aren’t spectacular, either, but each of them was cast for a very particular reason and they more or less deliver. The film is centered on Lisa Jurgensen, a professional softball player who competed in the Olympics and two World Championships. A believer in motivational slogans and self-improvement, Lisa is widely respected by her team and coaches. Reese Witherspoon, extraordinarily likable, and well-versed in playing determined go-getters, is a good choice. Witherspoon’s also played a woman caught between two men before (Sweet Home Alabama), and she does this again here.
The first man is business executive George Madison, (Paul Rudd) whose personality is essentially the same as it was in I Love You, Man. Painfully awkward but very, very sweet, George’s first interaction with Lisa is a phone call informing her that he’s sorry, but he won’t be able to make it to the blind date that they haven’t scheduled yet, and that she doesn’t know about. Lisa reasonably dismisses him as a weirdo, and promptly forgets him. Leading her to indulge with the other man in the picture, Matty the pro baseball pitcher, played by Owen Wilson. Wilson has made a fortune in acting the charming dumb blonde, and it’s no wonder. With a knack for vague friendliness, and completely undeserved optimism, Wilson’s characters get to do wacky, morally questionable things, and viewers have the pleasure of just cheering him on. In How Do You Know, his character Matty thinks that being a good host means having a drawer full of toothbrushes and a closet full of small and extra-small T-shirts for his one night stands.
The film sets this all up quickly, and then the plot machinations begin. Lisa is a champion player,
There is one more important plot point. The company that George works for is owned by his father, played by Jack Nicholson. Nicholson is a gifted actor, and surely chosen for this role by his ability to take unlikable characters and make them likable. Somehow, he doesn’t do it in this film. It may be the script, it may be his delivery, but nothing he does can redeem his character.
How Do You Know never explains where it’s going. Dialogue occasionally reduces to a series of one-liners. Sometimes the viewer is uncomfortable on behalf of the characters. The film is noticeably long. But these are not criticisms, just observations. If you can get past the initial instinct to ask of the characters “So what?” (not an easy thing to do), it is a delight to march to the offbeat, rambling drum of this film.
The Blu-ray comes with a blooper reel, over nineteen minutes of additional deleted scenes, a making-of commentary with the filmmakers, as well as live updates from BD Live. That there are nineteen minutes more of the film to watch is mildly worrying considering its already daunting length, but these bonuses are nothing if not thorough.