HOW DO YOU KNOW
By Gary Murray
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson
Written and directed by James L. Brooks
Running time 120 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
James L. Brooks is the man behind some very successful flicks. Spanglish and Broadcast News are a few of his titles. His latest is the romantic comedy How Do You Know.
The story centers around Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) an infielder for the US Olympic Team with two gold metals under her belt. The new male head coach sees that she is getting past her prime and decides to cut her but forbids his assistant female coaches to let Lisa know in advance.
On the other side of the plot, George (Paul Rudd) is working at his father's company. The young man opens his mail and finds that he is being singled out for a federal investigation. He has no idea why this is happening. Almost immediately he talks to his father and boss Charles (Jack Nicholson). As George tries to understand exactly what is going on with his career, the entire company begins to distance from him. He soon finds himself out and alone.
Lisa has just started a relationship with Matty (Owen Wilson) a major league pitcher who lives the life of a carefree bachelor. At his first date with Lisa, he is totally smitten. They become fast overnight friends, but she still has a blind date with George. At that date, things between Lisa and George begin bad and get worse until Lisa saves the date by telling George just to shut up and eat. This silent date is just the little perk that George needs and he too falls for Matty.
George goes to visit his father and discovers that the building his father lives in is also the place where Matty lives. George and Lisa meet in the elevator with Lisa now moved-in with Matty. Our lost hero George helps Lisa with the groceries and Matty is upset that she let another man into his apartment. This starts the pinball relationship between Matty and Lisa and George. People get closer and relationships connect and disconnect as the audience is raced to the big conclusion of How Do You Know.
Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon could easily be the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan of this generation. They just look perfect together, playing off each other with a comfort seldom seen There is a comfort in their performances, as if they are some sort of an established screen couple going through the motions again. Reese just glows and James Brooks captures every flicker of her beauty. But, the role is not all fluff, she does have to confront the idea of being a has-been early in her life.
I've always found Paul Rudd to be one of those 'take it or leave it' actors, one that leaves little impression. Here he is much of the same, giving goofy looks where none is needed. He does find the right beats with the comedy and delivers some solid comedy punches as a guy up to his neck, not knowing how or why he is in that position.
Owen Wilson falls much into the same category as Paul Rudd. He is this charming rogue, a role that he's done many times before. There just isn't much for him to work with in the character of Matty, he just goes through the motions.
Unfortunately Jack Nicholson just walks his performance, never finding any sympathy with the role. He's the 800 lb gorilla in the room, the commanding presence towering a head above the other actors.. The problem is that he just stands there, never giving a solid commitment to the role.
How Do You Know does wear out its welcome. running all of two hours. James Brooks has so much here that he just doesn't want to cut any of it. There in lies the problem. The film needs to be about 30 minutes shorter. There are just one too many moody crescendos and longing, loving shots. By picking up the pace, he could have crafted a much more successful film.
The romantic comedy is the tightest genre in the film handbook and How Do You Know doesn't break any new ground. Brooks didn't make either guy the bad guy, just one of them the wrong guy. How Do You Know does ask the right question but the audience knows that the answer will be.