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Home » Movies

Movie Review: HOW DO YOU KNOW

Submitted by on December 12, 2010 – 11:00 pm 15 Comments

The title of James L. Brooks’s latest movie, How Do You Know (opening Dec. 17), refers to when you realize you’ve fallen in love with someone. But the question I asked myself while watching was: How do you know a movie is in trouble? When even charismatic stars like Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon can’t save it.

Witherspoon is Lisa, a professional softball player who’s considered over the hill at thirty-one and forced to transition to another career. Rudd plays George, a man who learns he’s under federal investigation for stock fraud but doesn’t know why. The two are set up by a mutual friend and have an awkward dinner, during which both are trying to figure out their next moves and neither is in a friendly mood.

That should’ve been the end of that, especially since Lisa is casually dating a baseball player, Matty (Owen Wilson). But Lisa and George keep running into each other—his father (Jack Nicholson) lives in Matty’s swanky apartment building—and a friendship develops, despite Lisa moving in with Matty and the possibility that George might go to prison. As they try to sort out their lives, they also have to figure out how they truly feel about each other before one of them does something which would destroy their chances of being together.

Witherspoon has said in several interviews Brooks wrote the part for her so it’s odd what a bad fit it is. She makes a lot of exaggerated facial expressions to indicate her emotions without convincing me she was actually feeling them. This is unusual because she’s normally such a natural actress. I never quite bought her as a professional athlete or someone suffering from a lack of direction. There’s something about Witherspoon’s headstrong, go-getter persona (her production company is called Type A Prods.) that doesn’t lend itself well to a character who doesn’t know what to do with her life and sits around drinking and talking about her ennui. The actress looks as disengaged from the role as Lisa is disconnected from her true feelings.

Rudd is charming as usual, even when George is supposed to be a sad sack, the complete opposite of a chick magnet. He has such clear, expressive eyes that you can almost identify the exact moment George realizes he’s in love with Lisa. While she stays cool towards him for most of the movie (granted, she’s with someone), Rudd is the one who sells the growing attraction. Meanwhile, Wilson does his playboy-afflicted-with-stunted-maturity act and Nicholson is Nicholson, doing what you’d expect of him.

Brooks wrote and directed two of my favorite films of all time, Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News, but his more recent work has been so frustratingly uneven. The pacing is off here, with some scenes cutting away too soon and many going on for way too long. Other scenes seem superfluous and should have been deleted and saved for the DVD’s extras. The tone is also uncertain; the movie is billed as a romantic comedy but is more dramatic than funny. Brooks has insightful things to say about relationships but sometimes loses focus, leaving us with scattered thoughts that don’t add up to much.

Nerd verdict: Wish I liked You more

Photos: David James/Columbia Pictures



  • le0pard13 says:

    Netflix… maybe. Thanks, Elyse.

  • Every time the previews come up, I’m finding that I’m just not interested in the movie at all, unfortunately. The clips they show are just so awkward, and I’m surprised to read in your post that the role was actually written for her! I would never have thought that just based on the clips I’ve seen — whenever it comes on, I think something about is just off. Maybe because of her general persona of being ambitious, it’s hard for her to separate that onscreen, so it just came across as really weird. Bummer, though — so many fabulous actors in this film.

    Personally, I’d like to see a movie in which Reese Witherspoon just plays some aggressive and Corporate b*tch or something — you know, sort of like Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl or something like that. I think that might be a great type of combination for her funny side, but to show a darker and just plain evil side of her and put her in the business world. A true actress doesn’t always have to be the sweet lovable character in all romantic comedies. It gets annoying after a while for me. Play a bad person sometimes — it’s good to show range.

  • Elizabeth Duncan says:

    I thought your lead was going to be something like, “How do you know when to walk out of the cinema?” Which makes me wonder why there is no question mark in the title. It is a question, isn’t it?

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      For some reason, punctuation marks are often absent from movie titles. Dennis Lehane’s title was Gone, Baby, Gone but the movie was Gone Baby Gone. Same with Eat, Pray, Love, which became Eat Pray Love on the screen.

  • Jann says:

    Every ad I have seen said don’t bother…it seems like they tried to take all of the elements from date movies and meld them, but it just doesn’t cut it.

  • Christine says:

    Too bad, because I’ve really enjoyed other Brooks’ films. I just happened to catch a “making of” on one of the movie channels this AM. I was hoping it wasn’t as flat as it appeared to be from behind-the-scenes. Oh well, I’ll probably still give it a watch once it’s ON DEMAND. Thanks for the review, Elyse!

  • EIREGO says:

    Seemed to me like something to catch on cable late night during a holiday when nothing else is on. Obviously not THIS holiday. Bummer. Everything I had read about it seemed great, but I agree with most of the other comments here in that the trailer feels off in some way.

  • Maybe Brooks lied–He really wrote it for Jennifer Aniston. : )

  • Pop Culture Nerd says:

    Christine—Flat pretty much sums it up.

    EIREGO—I’m a fan of most of the talent involved, even Kathryn Hahn who has a supporting role, but this movie would not make your holidays merrier.

    Laura—Hahahaha! Or maybe Katherine Heigl.

  • It sounds even more awkward than a blind date. How disappointing. {That’s a very fetching photo of Paul Rudd, though.} Thanks for the heads-up, PCN.

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