I've always had a theory that in a lot of ways, a movie is like a sports team. In sports, you have coaches who try to lead their players to victory; in movies, you have writers and directors who try to get the best out of their cast for the best finished product. How Do You Know is a movie that would appear to exemplify that analogy; with veteran filmmaker James L. Brooks at the helm, handling both writing and directing, along with an established cast that has been there a million times before.
How Do You Know revolves around Lisa (Reese Witherspoon), a former professional softball player trying to put her life back together after she is cut from her team. Lisa tries to cope with this change by diving into a relationship with Matty (Owen Wilson), a good natured, albeit a bit clueless, baseball player for the Washington Nationals. Meanwhile, George (Paul Rudd) is a corporate guy who is being indicted by the government in a subplot that could have benefited from a little bit more explanation than was given in the movie. As George is struggling with this problem, his savvy father Charles (played by Jack Nicholson, who does another victory lap around Hollywood in this movie) tries to do what he can to help his son. Needless to say, Lisa and George end up meeting each other through a strange twist of fate and the fireworks begin.
Brooks' script for How Do You Know is tailored to the strengths of his cast and they manage to deliver solid performances. Though no one individual performance really stands out. Witherspoon is cute and feisty; Rudd is awkward and likable; and so on. Characterization is the key to any story and How Do You Know brings about a solid emotional arc for both Reese Witherspoon’s character and Paul Rudd’s character. The characters run parallel to each other, simultaneously dealing with complicated issues in their lives such as career and relationships. Even so, both characters react to these challenging circumstances very differently. Lisa (Witherspoon) is more assertive and concealed, while George (Rudd) provides an open, sensitive contrast. Yet these two clashing personalities manage to keep you guessing in an otherwise predictable movie genre.
For instance, in How Do You Know, when Lisa and George have their first meeting at a restaurant, they engage in a “silent meal” because they are both so fed up with their circumstances that talking would only make things worse. It is here that one of the main themes in How Do You Know comes about: How do you know what someone is going through or thinking just by looking at them? Problems come in all forms, shapes and sizes and How Do You Know does have a very honest feel to it. But have no illusions, this movie is still a straight-up romantic comedy. And while romantic comedies are often formulaic in their approach, How Do You Know manages what many in its genre often do not: genuine tender moments between the characters, and not just because this is the actor and actress that you see on the poster.
How Do You Know manages to deliver laughs and has the potential to touch many hearts, which is the goal that any creative team sets out to accomplish. That said, what plays as a strength for this movie can also be seen as a weakness. The performances and direction, while solid, come across as generic. And as for the movie itself, it starts out slow and has moments toward the middle where it tends to drag on.
The clear strengths of How Do You Know come from Brooks’ script, and while the leads have great chemistry together and the dialogue is clearly on point, it is by no means perfect. Beyond the two leads, the other characters have very little to do except to serve as a means to push the story along. As such, the audience is treated to the likes of the male lead’s apathetic girlfriend, the maternal female friend and the female lead’s idiot boyfriend which come off as the stock characters that seem to appear in every romantic comedy. Hence, there are scenes where the audience can see the direction the movie is heading in just a few lines of dialogue in. This tends to cause the movie to feel as though it is dragging on, because you want the characters to just make their points and move on. Though this is kind of expected, it puts a little more of that formula in, diluting an already pleasant story.
All in all, even with its flaws, How Do You Know is a nice story for anyone who is in love and cannot seem to catch a break in that arena. A valiant effort was made by Brooks and his team to tell a touching story about picking up the pieces and how suddenly one person can make a difference in someone else’s life. However, even with the veteran presence, How Do You Know just does not have quite enough to win it all.
How Do You Know
Rated R. Runtime 116 min. Theatrical release 12/17/2010.
PR.com Rating: C+