Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: James L Brooks
Stars: Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson.
How Do You Know is the latest romantic comedy from writer/director James L Brooks who has made some sparkling, witty comedies in the past, both for the big screen and small screen. However this tired effort lacks the snappy dialogue and penetrating insights of his best work (Broadcast News, etc). This is an average comedy about a romantic triangle that explores some key questions. How do you know when you’re in love? And how do you know which man is right for you? Unfortunately the film is so flat, uninspired and laboured that most in the audience won’t care much to discover the answers.
The central character here is Lisa (Reese Witherspoon), a champion softball player who has just been dumped from the national team because, at 30, she is considered too old and slow. But then her life is further complicated as she meets two men, and eventually has to choose between them.
First up is Matt (Owen Wilson), a champion baseball player who is handsome and earns $14 million a year. But he is also narcissistic, selfish and shallow, and unable to commit to a monogamous relationship. At the same time she meets George (Paul Rudd), a slightly neurotic stock analyst who is being investigated for securities fraud. He is being made the scapegoat for his father’s shady business dealings. He initially seems nice, but he’s currently unemployed, virtually broke, living in a rented apartment, and his future prospects look grim. Especially as the firm he works for, which is run by his father, refuses to foot the bill for his legal expenses.
Rudd (from Role Models and Dinner For Schmucks, etc) is a fairly colourless character and such a milquetoast that it’s hard to see why someone of Lisa’s background would even be attracted to him in the first place. And Wilson is playing yet another variation of the sort of shallow, superficial laid back character that he does so well. He gets the best lines in the movie.
Witherspoon normally plays strong, confident and intelligent women, but here her character is too clingy and needy to appeal to female audiences. Accordingly, her performance lacks her usual authority and spark.
And then there’s Jack Nicholson, who plays George’s father, a conniving businessman, in a subplot that actually adds little to the film. Jack is essentially playing himself again, full of the usual suggestive leers, mannerisms and cocky grin. Brooks has directed Nicholson to two Oscars (Terms Of Endearment and As Good As It Gets), but here he seems content to let Nicholson merely reprise the same lazy character/caricature that he has been playing for the past two decades. Nicholson’s excessive mugging and volatile nature is an uncomfortable fit in this film.
It is hard to see what audience this film is aimed at. It is about 20 minutes too long, with a couple of subplots that add little to the film. The writing is sluggish, the pacing uneven, and the movie itself feels disjointed. Brooks’ direction is unusually clumsy and clunky here. There are precious few laughs to be found. And most telling, there is little chemistry between the leads. The characters are generally unlikeable, and it’s doubtful that audiences will either warm to them or empathise with them.
How Do You Know is relatively lightweight stuff, which is disappointing given Brooks’ track record of well-written and insightful adult comedies.