- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Will Harris
ames L. Brooks has, in his time, been a creative force to be reckoned with. During his career on the small screen in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, he was the man behind “Room 222,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (as well as its spin-offs), and “Taxi.” Even now, his name continues to appear amongst the credits on “The Simpsons” on a weekly basis. Insofar as his film work goes, he could’ve coasted on having written, directed, and produced “Terms of Endearment” for the rest of his life, but he held the same trifecta of titles on “Broadcast News” and “As Good As It Gets,” co-writing the latter with Mark Andrus.
In short, Brooks is a man who knows comedy, drama, and romance, and he has demonstrated on many occasions that he possesses the ability to blend them seamlessly into a memorable and enjoyable film. This is not, however, what he has done with “How Do You Know,” which spends its run time traveling at a snail’s pace to a conclusion that most members of the audience could’ve predicted from the moment they looked at the film’s poster.
Reese Witherspoon is Lisa, a member of the U.S. Women’s Softball Team. Her life is turned upside down when the only career she’s ever really known is abruptly ripped out from under her by the team’s coach (played all too briefly by Dean Norris of “Breaking Bad” fame), who decides that, at the ripe old age of 27, Lisa is getting too slow. Paul Rudd is George, a corporate suit who finds himself on the receiving end of a federal indictment for fraud, thereby turning his life upside. He and Lisa have a virtual meet-cute by phone immediately before their careers fall apart – one of her friends secretly tried to set her up with him – but it appears that it’s going to be a non-starter, as Paul explains that he can’t really go out with her because he’s in a relationship that’s just started to get serious.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at this scenario and figure that A) George’s relationship is going to fall apart, and B) he and Lisa will eventually get together. Since it’s only a few minutes into the film, we can also guess that there’s going to be some obstacle that he’ll have to overcome before this will happen. That obstacle’s name is Matty (Owen Wilson), a cocky sports figure of some note who thinks he wants a relationship with Lisa but seems mystified at how to go about making that happen without losing all of the relationships he’s used to maintaining on the side.
The depth of the characters in “How Do You Know” is depressingly thin for a Brooks film, placing more focus on the myriad of facial expressions and contortions offered by Witherspoon and Rudd. Indeed, Witherspoon’s attempts to play Lisa as a nervous Nellie who doesn’t know what to do with her life only result in her coming off as disconcertingly twitchy. (Seriously, she made me anxious just watching her.) Wilson gets the majority of the laughs in the film, though Rudd’s gift of comedic delivery shines through on several occasions. But if there’s a heart of the film, it belongs not to the leads but, rather, to Kathryn Hahn, who, as George’s pregnant assistant, Annie, is unfailingly sweet. When Annie and her boyfriend, Al, take the spotlight late in the proceedings, you may find yourself wishing that the film had been about them all along. (I did.) As for Jack Nicholson, who plays George’s shifty businessman father, his performance screams, “I’m here to help out my buddy Jim Brooks, not because I really want to be.” By the end of the film, you can understand his position.
“How Do You Know” isn’t awful, but given the decidedly higher quality of Brooks’ past efforts and knowing what he’s capable of, it is awfully depressing.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
It might have been a box office flop, but that didn’t stop Sony from putting together a respectable Blu-ray release for “How Do You Know.” Along with an audio commentary track by writer/director James L. Brooks and director of photography Janusz Kaminski, the single-disc effort also contains select scene commentary by Brooks and actor Owen Wilson, a making-of featurette, and nearly 30 minutes of deleted scenes, as if the movie wasn’t long enough. Additionally, there’s a nice conversation between Brooks and Hans Zimmer about the score and the process of making movies, a blooper reel, a copy of the script, and the recipe for the drink Paul Rudd’s character makes in the film.