How Do You Know

21 Dec

Title: How Do You Know
James L. Brooks
James L. Brooks
Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson, Dean Norris, Andrew Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Tony Shalhoub
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, sexual content and some strong language
116 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:


James L. Brooks has created some classics over his illustrious career. Just look at some of the titles that appear on his filmography, Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment and As Good as It Gets, three films that definitely have made their imprint on modern American cinema. However, after that last one I named, which won Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt Oscars, his next writer-director credit came with Spanglish, a film that was so-so at best and that tanked at the box office, grossing only $55 million on an $80 million budget.

And now he tries to bounce back with How Do You Know, his latest romantic comedy with an all-star cast that sees him reuniting with Mr. Nicholson. However, the result isn’t nearly as timeless as some of his past films have been, and for all the talent of the cast, and the budget this was given, a reported $120 million, this should have been something much much better. And considering it made a measly $7.6 million on its opening weekend, I’m guessing Mr. Brooks and his studio are feeling pretty blue right now.

The movie really isn’t that horrible, but if you’re James L. Brooks, and by this I mean that you’re a proven director at making classic films, and you get such a huge budget, and manage to get Mr. Nicholson to come on board on a cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson, then the result should be nothing other than extraordinary. This is pretty much the most likable quartet one could have gotten for a film, Mr. Rudd is my personal mancrush, but for all the charm its castmembers have the film just feels stale.

What I love the most about Mr. Brooks’ great past films is that how he portrays the lives of his characters is always remarkably well done, and it all feels very human and real. Yet in How Do You Know the film doesn’t really achieve this, and at times feels manipulative. Yes, there are some very cool and funny moments but they’re not enough to make this one feel like a good movie, because there are also a bunch of moments that just don’t do it.

I will say one thing first though, and it’s that, even though How Do You Know wasn’t good, it’s still most definitely a James L. Brooks film. And that’s one of the best characteristics about the man’s body of work. His films always carry his vision, for good or bad, and I respect that quite a bit. In How Do You Know there are hints at first that this one could take off to be another one of his classics, on paper the characters all look pretty amazing. However, the magic of all of Mr. Brooks’ films always happens because of the chemistry of his characters, just look at Mr. Nicholson and Ms. Hunt in As Good as It Gets, and the characters in this one just don’t mold well together. He wrote the individual characters brilliantly, but he didn’t find an equally great way to get them together.

However, I am grateful for this film if only for one reason. The fact that it reunited audiences with Ms. Witherspoon, who we hadn’t seen onscreen since the quite bad Four Christmases two years ago, though we had heard her lovely voice in last year’s Monsters vs. Aliens. But yes, it had been two years since we had seen Reese Witherspoon, and I had really missed her. Not only is she gorgeous and insanely charming, but she has this wonderful comedic timing, and can balance the comedic and dramatic elements of a role perfectly. Thankfully we’ll see her in two films next year, This Means War and Water for Elephants, so we won’t have to settle for this and brace ourselves for another two-year wait.

In here Ms. Witherspoon plays Lisa, a player for the U.S. softball team who’s cut from the team as she’s deemed too old by the new coach. Lisa then we see embarks on a relationship with Mr. Wilson’s character, Matty, who’s a pitcher for the Washington Nationals and by far the funnest and most charming character of the movie. And that’s all thanks to Mr. Wilson, who knows how to play these characters to perfection, the men who still think as boys and just want to have fun, and who still come off as incredibly charismatic and lovable to audiences. Matty will, obviously, then realize that his unapologetic ways may be changed by Lisa, who’s awakening feelings in him he didn’t knew he could exhibit.

And then we have Mr. Rudd’s character, George, who’s the son of Mr. Nicholson’s character, and who also runs the company his father founded. And, much like with Mr. Wilson, we see Mr. Rudd playing the type of character he’s so damn good at playing, just a very likable and nice guy who won’t do harm to anyone. And yet here he is, at the center of a fraud investigation he had nothing to do with, and a likely indictment. His life just starts crumbling down, his father puts the company before his son in his list of priorities, his assistant doesn’t want to tell him all she knows because she fears she might be fired and, to cap it all off, his girlfriend leaves him.

That’s sort of when Lisa comes into play and the love triangle forms. At first he called Lisa to tell her he wasn’t going on a blind date with her like a mutual friend suggested, but then the two re-encounter and sparks seemingly start to fly, just as Lisa was starting to work things out again with Matty. And from what I have just told you, you would be correct in assuming this would be prime James L. Brooks material, and rightfully so because the above reads tremendously well.

However, something just doesn’t click here, as I said the chemistry of the characters just doesn’t ultimately work, and notice I say characters and not necessarily actors. And Mr. Nicholson’s character I just never thought was never really necessary, which is surprising considering I think Mr. Nicholson is guy who can be needed in any single movie ever. And moreover, even though we’re obviously supposed to root for George, I found myself sometimes wanting to cheer on Matty. And that’s not Mr. Rudd’s fault, as I said he’s my top mancrush, but it’s just that the character feels flat after a very promising start, and not even an actor’s charm can do much to salvage that.

How Do You Know is a film that on paper looks amazing, but the little things do it in, and there are so many little things off in this one that the endresult suffers. This is really far from being a bad film, there were, after all, a few winning moments, especially at the start of the film, but we all expected a knockout, and rightfully so considering the pedigree, and instead what we got was just an okay film. Yes, Mr. Wilson is golden in the movie’s best-written role, and yes, Mr. Rudd is still extremely likable even though his character ends up feeling bland, and yes, Ms. Witherspoon is charming and lovely as ever. But the sum of its parts just don’t feel good for some reason, and any film that has Jack Nicholson in a role that doesn’t let him do his usual magic just isn’t worth that much of my love.

Grade: B-


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