How Do You Know

How Do You Know

Paul Rudd comforts Reese Witherspoon who has just realized that she's made a bomb.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Columbia) Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson, Kathryn Hahn, Mark Linn-Baker, Lenny Venito, Ron McLarty, Molly Price, John Tormey, Tony Shalhoub, Dean Norris, Teyonah Parris, Shelley Conn. Directed by James L. Brooks

Love is like the wind. You can’t hold it easily in your hands and sometimes you’re not even sure it’s there at all. Is that breeze you’re feeling the beginnings of love or just the air conditioning?

Lisa (Witherspoon) sure doesn’t know. Once the face of the U.S. Softball Team, she’s won Olympic gold and world championships. Now, she’s in the twilight of her career and as the 2011 team is being selected, a jerk of a coach (Norris) decides that her best days are behind her.

She hooks up with Matty (Wilson) after being set up by a friend. He is a pitcher for the major league Washington Nationals who is good looking, charming and completely self-obsessed. Maybe this is what Lisa needs to get out of her funk; her good friend Sally (Price) doesn’t think so but hey, you always support your teammate no matter what.

George (Rudd) is going through some tough times of his own. He is being investigated by the federal government for something he didn’t do, although it happened on his watch. He had taken over the reins of his father’s company and dear old dad (Nicholson) is being left with the terrible choice of supporting his son or the company he spent a lifetime building. The law specifies that he has to do the latter, so the lawyer (Linn-Baker) that George would have chosen can’t represent him because he’s being paid by the company and there’s a conflict of interest.

George and Lisa go out on a blind date on the worst day of both of their lives, set up by one of Lisa’s teammates who knew George. The first time they were to get together, George was already dating Terry (Conn) who was throwing herself into her work as a scientist more than she was throwing herself into the relationship. When the feces hit the fan for George, she distanced herself from him, not wanting the drama to get in the way of her work. Ain’t modern relationships grand? However, now that Terry’s out of the picture and George is feeling particularly lonely, he decides to take a shot at the blind date, urged on by his assistant Annie (Hahn) who seems to have a weird fixation on him, despite being pregnant by a guy she loves very much.

Anyway, by all measures the date between George and Lisa is a complete disaster except that for George, it’s just what the doctor ordered. He falls hard for Lisa, who in the meantime is getting closer to Matty who treats her nicely and despite being more of a narcissist than most of us will ever be, is at least trying to be the right guy for her. George’s persistence pays off as his woebegone puppy charm begins to wear her down.

So Lisa is faced with George and Matty. Both good men, both clearly in love with her, but which one is she in love with? Or maybe she doesn’t love either of them? What is her future going to bring? Why did her agent get her into this movie? 

This is one of the cases where a fine cast, a terrific director and an interesting idea for a movie turn out to be disappointing. It has all the ingredients – Brooks, whose pedigree include classics like Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good as It Gets, for example. Obviously he has a knack for directing romantic comedies. A terrific cast of very likable actors doesn’t hurt either. I even like the love triangle concept. So why don’t I love this movie?

One of the problems I have with it is that it treats its viewers like five-year-olds. It constantly re-emphasizes that George and Lisa are at a crisis in their lives, and that Matty is self-centered. It belabors the point so much you just want to get out of your seat, run up to the projection booth, grab the projectionist by the neck and scream into his face “WE GET IT! WE UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY! NOW MOVE ON, WOULD YOU PLEASE?!?”

Of course, that would never happen – most movies are shown digitally these days anyway, so projectionists are going the way of ushers. Be that as it may, that leaves the performances and for the most part they’re pretty good. There’s a terrific scene near the end of the movie when Lisa makes her choice and the spurned suitor hugs her and says quietly “What did I do wrong?” The heartbreak is very evident in his voice and it is one of the finest acting moments of his career (won’t tell you who it is in case you plan to see the movie, although you can probably guess who it is).

Nicholson is always entertaining and he blusters his way through this, although you never get the impression he really believes that he’s making a great movie but is more doing a favor for a friend. Witherspoon is one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood and she’s quite accomplished at the romantic comedy genre; she is not at the top of her game here, but close enough that she performs solidly. Owen Wilson is also pretty good in his role. I might have liked the movie if his character hadn’t been quite so self-centered. It would seem, on paper, an easy call for Lisa to make; I would have liked it if both of the guys that were falling for her were less projects and more really good guys who each deserved her and whom she cared for. That would have made the difficulty of her position more pronounced and, dare I say it, more realistic. At least, I would have found it more entertaining that way.

Another problem is Rudd’s character. Not because of his performance, which captures the neuroses of the character nicely; the problem is that the character is poorly written. He seems to be incapable of taking any bad news, but yet he was running what apparently was a very large and profitable company. Bad news kind of comes with that kind of territory, you know? He’s also supposed to be a “good man” – and he is, but good doesn’t mean wimpy. He apparently doesn’t have any sort of spine whatsoever, making it very tough to identify with him despite all of Rudd’s best efforts to make him charming.

The main problem I have with the movie is its length. Due to all the overemphasis on the movie’s main plot points, it feels like the movie runs long by a good half hour if not more. I was definitely getting fidgety at the end, something I don’t normally do for good movies.

The crying shame is that this could have been a good movie, and I really wanted it to be. The cast is likable, the behind the camera talent is extremely strong and the concept could have made for a good movie. One suspects that unseen hands were tinkering with this movie, particularly in the editing phase. A stronger hand on the scissors might have made this sleeker, leaner and more entertaining. Ah well, there’s always the fast forward button when this comes out on home video; that way you can make your own edit.

REASONS TO GO: Reese Witherspoon is a very beautiful woman. Jack Nicholson is worth seeing whenever you get the opportunity.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a good half hour too long. Far too much dithering going on here.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and some mildly bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of the father was originally offered to Bill Murray who turned it down.

HOME OR THEATER: If you watch it at home at least you can get up and leave without bothering anybody.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The King’s Speech

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.