How Do You Know – Review


A strong cast and solid premise are weakened by a final product in need of fine tuning.

Life is all about making decisions that lead to other choices, and then making decisions about those, and so on and so forth. Everything you do somehow intertwines with everything else you do, and even the smallest of changes can alter your entire life. This is the general idea of the new romantic comedy How Do You Know, by James L. Brooks (As Good As It Gets), though I’d say it’s more apt to call it a romantic drama, with touches of comedy sprinkled throughout to add flavour and liven the pace.

The film stars Reese Witherspoon as Lisa, a professional softball player and Olympic gold medalist, who has hit the ripe old age of 31, and in the eyes of the new Team USA coach, is past her prime. With her professional life in turmoil, she quickly takes to her seemingly never-ending supply of motivational quotes and presses forward, preparing herself to go through the motions of what retired players she’s known have tended to do: meet a guy, go back to school, get married, have kids, and live happily ever after.

Already kind of involved with another professional ball player, Matty (Owen Wilson), Lisa soon finds that life isn’t as easy to plan out as she once thought, as George (Paul Rudd), the head honcho of a family built corporation, who as of roughly a day earlier, is being investigated by authorities for fraud and facing jail time, takes it upon himself to call Lisa up and ask her on a blind date after receiving her number from a friend. Not wanting to complicate matters, Lisa agrees to meeting for an early dinner, but is forward with her current relationship status. This doesn’t seem to bother George, as he obviously has more pressing issues on his mind, and if anything, just wants to separate himself from his current troubles and try and find some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

The story works well enough, and the characters are interesting, but with a running time of two hours, the connections with some of the characters made along the way feel somewhat weak. I’m not sure if that’s because Brooks was attempting to cram too much into the story, or if he almost didn’t put enough into it to make it memorable once all was said and done. The thing is, it could have been more, and it’s almost a shame that the premise doesn‘t hit its full potential.

Let me explain, as it’s hard to say that a film both worked, and didn’t work, without giving reasoning for both. The characters are interesting, and have some great dialogue, yet at the same time, they’re not really given the time needed to develop in the way they need to in order to give the outcome of each story the impact it truly deserves. They hit all the right notes along the way, and they get the job done well enough that some parts were moving, and I didn’t feel as though time was wasted with them; however, I was left feeling that there was so much going on, that certain aspects of the film, and the relationships developing throughout it, felt rushed at times.

Of course, one of the aspects of the film that stands out is how much we all juggle in our day to day lives, and how much that reflects on our relationships. This is one of the reasons why it sometimes feels that too much is going on in the film, simply because there is, because that’s how life is. There are constant cell phone calls that interrupt other conversations, changes in moods, changes in logic, changes in persona, and changes of habits, and it all works, because that’s really just how things go in our day to day lives, and relationships.

Wilson’s Matty is the comedic relief which is an odd thing to say when talking about a film that’s being marketed as a comedy, and while Rudd also has some funny moments, Wilson takes the ball and runs with it when it comes to the laughs. He’s charming, and fits into his role perfectly, as a cocky jock who’s more used to one-night stands, and being bluntly honest when it comes to what he expects from relationships than he is to being a monogamous partner. He’s the here and now character in the film, and who Lisa believes is what she needs at this traumatic turning point in her life.

Rudd, on the other hand, plays the straight-laced, Dudley-do right, George, and he does so with ease. George is the sympathetic character, and the polar opposite of Matty, which works well in the love triangle the two share with Lisa. Rudd plays the role extremely well, yet his side story with his father (Jack Nicholson) and his federal indictment issues, is one of the more complicated ones in the film, and the one that feels the least expanded on throughout.

While Nicholson is a huge talent, and has worked with Brooks multiple times before (in roles which brought him two Academy Awards), this time around his story falls short, and seems to be the victim of the cutting room floor in favour of the advertised love story that obviously needed to take precedent. The thing is, it’s unfortunate, as this story seems to be a piece of the film that, if expanded, would have added more layers to George, instead of leaving him as the copy and paste good guy, and also would have given the film more of an overall impact in the end.

Witherspoon is great once again, and it’s unfortunate that her star seems to remain on the back-burner when it comes to leading ladies who bring in the crowds on opening weekend. She’s an incredible talent, and her work here continues to prove that. With all that’s going on in the film, Witherspoon remains in the driver’s seat, and her making the audience believe she’s a woman at a crossroads, with no definite answer in sight, and no real way to choose the right path without opening herself up, adds a layer to her character that the others somewhat lacked.

How Do You Know is a light-hearted, romantic drama that isn’t overly memorable, but is enjoyable at the same time. With a little more fine-tuning, some better pacing, and some additional story between George and his father, I believe the film would have come out stronger. The way it stands, How Do You Know is an acceptable film, that fans of the genre will likely enjoy, but falls short of being anything but average.

Director: James L. Brooks
Notable Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson
Writer(s): James L. Brooks

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