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December 17, 2010   •  Category: "How Do You Know?"0 Comments

As a big holiday release, there are a lot of reviews for How Do You Know being written out there! I’m not going to post a lot of them here – you can search on Google for “How Do You Know” reviews – but below are a selection that I found interesting. A lot of the reviews aren’t too positive about the film, but many of them still have nice things to say about Reese!

film review—HOW DO YOU KNOW

If you admire such films as Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment, and As Good as it Gets, as I do, you’ll be rooting for James L. Brooks to score another bull’s-eye with his latest effort. But it’s clear pretty early on that How Do You Know is a muddled misfire: a tiresome, talky romantic comedy about a bright young woman who, at a vulnerable moment in her life, can’t decide between two men—neither of whom seems terribly appealing. That these three characters are played by Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd makes it even more disheartening. Worst of all, Jack Nicholson, who has given some of his best performances in Brooks’ movies, tries to negotiate an unplayable role as Rudd’s unsympathetic, self-absorbed father.

I could try to describe the story—as I started to do in a first draft of this review—but it would be a waste of your time and mine. Brooks establishes the traits and quirks of his three main characters and then has them do things that make no sense. The one constant throughout the film is the amount of talk that emanates from their lips; in fact, they don’t ever shut up.

Witherspoon has never looked more glamorous onscreen, which is the only thing I’m likely to remember about How Do You Know. There is nothing else positive to say about this sorry year-end release.

Talk’s cheap in Witherspoon’s latest

James L. Brooks, the comic genius behind “Terms of Endearment” (1983), “Broadcast News” (1987) and “As Good As It Gets” (1997) and the TV shows “The Simpsons” and “Taxi,” has had his share of hits and misses (“Spanglish,” anyone?).

“How Do You Know,” his latest, is a near miss. A film that is completely in love with the sound of its human voices, this is a rather slim romantic comedy featuring a love triangle involving hugely appealing Reese Witherspoon in an odd role.

She is Lisa, a singleton who must be the world’s most articulate female jock. When Lisa, whose bathroom mirror is festooned with self-help Post-it Notes, gets cut from her champion Virginia softball team, she resolves to take control of her life. To that end she dates Matty (Owen Wilson), major league pitcher with a 94 mph fastball and $14 million a year contract. Matty thinks that monogamy means using condoms with other women.

At the same time, offbeat nice guy George Madison (Paul Rudd), an idealistic executive with a corporation owned by his volatile father (Jack Nicholson), finds out he is the target of a federal investigation, and his life goes into a tailspin. His loyal assistant (a great Kathryn Hahn) is legally forbidden to speak to him. His beautiful girlfriend (Shelley Conn) dumps him, and he must sell his condo.

Will Lisa fall for self-absorbed Matty or worshipful George?

That’s the plot. But that’s’ not what “How Do You Know” is about. The film is about the way some human beings use words as a constant means of investigating their feelings.

They’re talkers. Characters in “How Do You Know” (Where is the question mark?) tell stories, converse endlessly on their cell phones, or say to another character – “Can we talk?” At onepoint I swear the characters were talking about talking.

Like Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture”) and several other mumblecore types, “How Do You Know” often reeks of the analyst’s couch.

As the film’s linchpin, Academy Award-winner Witherspoon is up to the demands of the script and has nice, if not exactly sizzling chemistry with her co-stars. Rudd has two very funny scenes involving George singing Teddy Pendergrass lyrics that sound like a mash note. But Hahn has the film’s most moving scene, and America may be too weary of professional athletes and their Olympian sex lives. Too often, I found myself staring at Witherspoon and Wilson’s extravagant matching locks.

James L. Brooks’ Film Weak Despite Star Power

A question mark after the titular query is not the only thing missing from “How Do You Know,” a low-impact romantic comedy-drama from James L. Brooks in which the central characters are strangely disconnected from one another as well as from the audience.

While not as bad as his last outing, Spanglish, six years ago, it nonetheless shares the same sense of separation from real life, of having been hatched in some west-of-the-405 bubble that’s raised its drawbridge to the outside world. The high-pedigree cast will attract a measure of patronage through the holidays, but ticket sales will fall well short of the old Brooks standard.

Very attractive sorts who occupy the posher circles of Arlington, Va., just across the river from D.C., the main figures here babble on so incessantly about themselves — often in psychiatric jargon that suggests either they or their creator have been spending far too much time in the company of shrinks — that their chatter soon becomes a blur of noise only sporadically worth listening to. Self-absorbed uncertainty is the order of the day, but not in a terribly amusing way.

The promising opening spotlights Reese Witherspoon’s Lisa as a star national women’s league softball player. Rather than to see her get cut from the team right away, it might have been more engaging to spend the first act watching her in what she doesn’t know to be her final season; what this confident, capable woman later fleetingly reveals about her lack of feeling for love and kids is intriguing but makes one wish to have seen her in her prime. But dropped she is, sending the 31-year-old beauty into a downward swirl of not knowing what to do for the rest of her life.

Simultaneously thrown for a loop is sincere, energetic young businessman George Madison (Paul Rudd), who, unaware of having done anything wrong, is stunned to be charged with securities fraud. He’s urged by his dad and company boss, Charles (Jack Nicholson), not to overly worry, but his bad news only gets worse, on top of which he’s dumped by his girlfriend.

It’s Brooks’ design, then, that two people who might be right for one another meet at their mutual lowest ebbs. But they don’t seem like types well equipped to perform rescue missions from depression, and it’s frankly hard to fathom the idea that the seemingly rational Lisa would tolerate a basket case like George; on a dinner date, she creatively suggests that they not talk as they eat, just so they can compose themselves, with the added dividend that the audience is spared more motor-mouthed, over-the-top confessionals for a moment or two.

Providing a radically different option for Lisa is Washington Nationals pitcher Matty (Owen Wilson), a good-times guy with a designer condo and a social life defined by the extensive collection of toothbrushes and pink garb he has available for his stream of overnight female guests. A sweet-natured horndog, Matty so plainly is what he is that it’s impossible to begrudge him his habits. When he becomes vaguely serious about Lisa, who superficially represents a good, athletic match for him, even grasping the basic tenets of monogamy proves as difficult for him as learning a foreign language.

So, yes, the title is right, it is difficult to know who and what are best for you, to decide on a mate and what road to take. So what else is new? For George, it’s a double crunch; not only does he have to decide that Lisa is worth winning, but how he plays the criminal matter goes to the crux of his relationship with his father.

The problem is that Brooks only reveals, or explores, a fraction of his characters, and only those aspects that can be illustrated by quasi-comic shtick provoked by extreme conditions. The writer-director’s sitcom roots show vividly, both in the confessional-mode writing and the prosaic staging. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski does a real chameleon act here, shooting in a bright, crisp manner closer to ’70s TV than to anything he’s ever done before for the big screen. Except for the limited location work, the enterprise bears a strong sense of the soundstage.

Suppressing her natural can-do personality, Witherspoon plays a more neurotic and conflicted character than usual for her, but one wishes the writing went far deeper to realistically explore Lisa’s uncertainties and mixed emotions. All the same, if not for Witherspoon’s radiant, spirited presence, “How Do You Know” would be a difficult sit indeed. The three leading men are all appealing but go easy routes here: Rudd mugs, Wilson preens and Nicholson, sounding quite raspy-voiced, pushes well-known buttons.

Given the familiarity and insularity of the material here, How Do You Know suggests that, if there’s one filmmaker in Hollywood right now in need of a tour of how the other half lives, a la Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels, it’s James Brooks.

Review: How Do You Know

Reese Witherspoon gives a winning performance in this ensemble comedy

Early on in James L. Brooks’ romantic comedy How Do You Know, the film’s type-A heroine, Lisa (Reese Witherspoon), winds up in bed with Matty (Owen Wilson), a dim pro-baseball player whose knack for wooing women is nearly as impressive as his fastball.

When the glowing, post-coital Lisa discovers Matty’s bathroom is stocked with pink tracksuits and spare toothbrushes — gifts the gracious host prides himself on offering his conquests the morning after — she senses this playa isn’t boyfriend material. But she sticks around, anyway. Who can resist the promise of some good times, when finding a deeper love seems all but impossible?

Lisa’s attitude provides a handy approach to How Do You Know, a curious, slow-burning rom-com where the rewards come in fits and spurts. As a whole, it’s a bit of a mess, but if you hang in there, the movie manages to generate enough easygoing charm and laughs to make you glad you stayed.

Like James L. Brooks’ beloved and far superior Broadcast News, How Do You Know focuses on a trio of highly functioning professionals who don’t have the first clue about relationships. At the centre is Lisa, a successful softball player for a national team, who’s about to be put out to pasture at the ripe old age of 31. Early retirement is clearly not on this perfectionist’s agenda: standing alone in her bathroom (surrounded by Post-It note affirmations like “Stupidity should be painful!”), Lisa takes the news hard, brushing her teeth vigorously while wiping away big, blobby tears.

Across town, nice guy George (Paul Rudd) is also hitting a career low, having been informed he’s being investigated for securities fraud. It’s a murky corporate crime that’s never properly explained, but one that likely involves George’s weaselly father and boss, Charles (Jack Nicholson), a selfish monster prone to shouting lines like “Cynicism is sanity!”

Reeling at the prospect of starting a new life, Lisa ups her late-night booty calls to Matty’s condo, but also manages — thanks to coincidences that exist only in romantic comedies — to wind up on a very awkward lunch date with George. The two make an impression on each other, and eventually forge the beginnings of a clumsy but mutually nurturing friendship. All the put-upon George knows is he feels better around Lisa, while he introduces her to the foreign concept of talking about her emotions.

In the midst of this life crisis, Lisa begins to see a shrink (Tony Shalhoub), who urges her to “figure out what you want, and learn how to ask for it.” This succinct advice winds up being the thematic force behind How Do You Know, as all of the characters take fumbling stabs at finding what will make them truly happy.

Shalhoub’s directive proves easier said than done — indeed, Matty’s brain cramps whenever he tries to contemplate something beyond a one-night stand. The movie struggles, too. In the film’s meandering first hour, Brooks is so committed to studying each of his characters in their own orbits, you might find yourself wondering when the film’s going to achieve some momentum.

When he focuses, though, Brooks still has a gift for broad, smart comedy. An early bit involving George’s attempts to drown his sorrows in steak, Teddy Pendergrass tunes and a ridiculous amount of booze is played with such flair by Rudd that it’ll tide you over until the film’s second half. And there’s a scene later in How Do You Know that is such a marvel, it makes the lengthy buildup worthwhile. As two characters play out a hospital-room dialogue that looks to be as cornball as you’d expect, Brooks pulls a sly bait-and-switch that manages to undercut, even comment on, the sappiness, while still keeping you hoping for a sentimental outcome. This is inspired writing — truly as good as it gets.

Brooks’ players handle this material like seasoned pros — they keep things bobbing along, even when the film’s structure threatens to fall apart. Rudd easily bests Nicholson in a duel to see who gives the best reaction shots, and Wilson is just as endearing, investing all of his scenes with puppy-dog energy that’s tough to resist. Some of How Do You Know’s best moments come courtesy of Matty, especially when, in hapless-boyfriend mode, he begs Lisa, “Can I just finish my thought, please? Maybe it’ll help, maybe it won’t, but I’m trying.”

In the end, however, it’s Witherspoon’s movie. The actress is always winning, even if she fares better in self-assured scenes than in the moments when she has to dither. As her character inches toward some kind of self-awareness, you’ll be reminded of how many complex women Brooks has written in his career, from his Mary Tyler Moore Show days to the feisty mother-and-daughter duo in Terms of Endearment.

Lisa isn’t quite on par with those formidable dames, but at a time when a lot of romantic comedies are populated by needy twits, it’s refreshing to see a genuinely smart female character — one who cares about her career and worries aloud that she might not make a great wife or mother. Lisa might be lost, but Witherspoon always makes her feel real. I found myself invested in her outcome, giddy towards the end that both Lisa and the movie had finally figured out where they were going.

Disappointed in Softball, but Will She Be Disappointed in Love?

In “How Do You Know,” a romantic comedy about missed opportunities, scripted and otherwise, Reese Witherspoon wears an industrial-strength smile and a laser twinkle that looks as if it’s set on kill. Although she’s routinely cast in frothy fare, Ms. Witherspoon comes with a hard, intimidating edge that most directors ignore. Maybe she prefers light and lovely over dark and dangerous. But as she showed in Alexander Payne’s 1999 comedy, “Election,” in which she played a ferocious high-school climber in a dazzling performance that has hung over her career like an unmet dare, she can be a beautiful menace.

Jack Nicholson and Paul Rudd in James L. Brooks’s latest film, “How Do You Know,” about a professional softball player.

In “How Do You Know,” an airless, sometimes distressingly mirthless comedy written and directed by James L. Brooks, Ms. Witherspoon plays Lisa, a softball player with world-class aspirations who fails to make the cut, an unfortunate story line for a movie with the same problem.

The bad news arrives not long into the movie, furnishing her with a potential existential dilemma — she’s a 31-year-old athlete without obvious prospects — that Mr. Brooks has little interest in exploring. So instead, he dries her tears and piles on the romantic complications, loading her with smiles and sighs, exits and entrances, and cramming this busy yet uneventful movie with the kind of laugh lines built for laugh tracks.

Lisa’s romantic complications come in two flavors: vanilla and butterscotch. She almost samples the first, a pale, soft-serve businessman working in some vague capacity named George (Paul Rudd), after a mutual friend tries to hook them up. George has his own troubles, including a federal investigation and an overbearing father (an alarmingly unhealthy-looking and wheezing Jack Nicholson) who’s also his boss.

George is a nice guy, or so the movie insists, again and again. By the time he calls her, Lisa already seems under the spell of Matty (Owen Wilson), a major-league pitcher with lots of dough and a softly cracked attitude toward life. So George strikes out and strikes out again, though of course not for long.

As it happens, Mr. Brooks has more predictable taste in men than his female characters do. Albert Brooks’s flop-sweating reporter might have been perfect for Holly Hunter’s motor-mouthed television producer in the filmmaker’s most successful comedy, “Broadcast News,” but it was William Hurt’s dry-look anchor who (temporarily) got the girl. Once again, Mr. Brooks (the filmmaker) tips the scales, mostly because he seems to have mistaken the appealing, featherweight Mr. Rudd for a romantic lead. Mr. Wilson might not have the seriousness (or self-seriousness) of a William Hurt, but he holds your interest with his idiosyncratic, off-rhythm charm and delivery. He’s a live wire, and when he’s onscreen the movie jumps.

For the most part, though, it just sits there, idling in neutral, as lines are delivered and bodies listlessly moved. The generic quality of the title — yes, indeed, how does anyone know — extends to every other facet in the production. The three main characters talk and talk, save for one dinner of cutely enforced quiet between Lisa and George, and generally sound as if they just got out of therapy: they process rather than converse. Yet perhaps because Mr. Brooks doesn’t want to get too heavy, even when the story lists toward the weighty, much of the dialogue comes in tiny, epigrammatic bites not much bigger and certainly no deeper than the affirmations that Lisa has scribbled on Post-its and stuck on her bathroom mirror.

“How Do You Know” is so wan and disconnected to anything that feels like real life or, just as good, a screwball interpretation of it that it’s hard to know what Mr. Brooks was really after, other than passing the time with some talented movie people. This lack of urgency and purpose proves toughest on Ms. Witherspoon, who, partly because she’s the strongest or most obviously determined actor in this little group, seems incapable of goofing her way through the movie. Mr. Rudd and Mr. Wilson have no such problem. Curiously, all three are outshone by a pair of character actors — Kathryn Hahn, who plays George’s secretary, Annie, and Lenny Venito, as her boyfriend — who, in an overworked, overwritten hospital scene, show you what love looks like simply by, surprise, good acting.

“How Do You Know” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Some naughty words.

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