4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing, Rated PG-13
Run Time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson
Written & Directed by James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets, Spanglish)
Despite the horrible Rotten Tomatoes rating (35% as of this writing) and some critical bashing, "How Do You Know" to me is one of the better entries in the "rom-com" genre in quite some time. It's deliberate style and odd dialogue makes it a hard sell, especially the first 30 minutes or so, and despite being about a half an hour too long, it makes for a believable romantic love triangle...at it's core anyway. In fact, much of the situational comedy in the movie is completely ludicrous, unneeded, and forced...yet the emotions at play and the relationship dynamics between the 3 main characters hit on some revealing truths about men, women, and determining what makes a person happy. Let me explain...
The Plot. Witherspoon is Lisa, an olympic all-star athlete who has only known success as a softball player since early childhood. When she doesn't make the team (she's replaced with a younger up-and-comer), she no longer has a focus in her life, never having lived without her sport in her life. She meets Owen Wilsons' Matty, a pro baseball pitcher who has millions...of dollars and presumably partners. Despite his self-centered egomania, he does like Lisa, and she respects him even though each move he makes is the wrong one. They have similar interests (sports), and she sees a version of him that she would like...just not his current self. Then there's Paul Rudd's George, a straight-arrow business man who was set up to take the fall and faces prison time for errors made by his father's corporation. He goes on a first date with Lisa and they have the worst night of their lives, but somehow that is just what each of them needed. The film spends most of it's time with Lisa, as she tries to figure out the movie's title: How do you know what you should be interested in? How do you know when you've found the right person? And how do you know that what you want is what you should want?
Jack Nicholson is Rudd's father, in a completely unneeded throwaway role. There is an entire sub-plot revolving around Rudd's trouble with his dad and his corporation that just isn't believable and doesn't work...a distraction from what the movie should be focusing on: the relationships. You may not believe either the chemistry between Witherspoon and Wilson. But see, despite all of these distractions and even some simply odd and unfunny early scenes, the heart of the film is universally relatable. Who of us hasn't met someone who shares similar interests, but we just feel something is missing? How can the most attractive person end up being the worst person for you? Why does love seem to be found in the most unusual of places, at just the wrong time?
The first half of the movie gives us the 3 characters and all of their faults, and has us seeing why Lisa would be attracted to both, or neither men. The movie though, clearly has us favoring Rudd's character the further it goes on. Their chemistry is key to the movie, and both Witherspoon and Rudd play characters we don't often see...Witherspoon as a tough, emotionally-cut-off woman and Rudd as a weak, unconfident man. It doesn't seem like these would be attractive qualities, but it's just what each of them need.
The film becomes charming and a scene towards the end in a hospital room is both touching and funny. In fact, I found much of the film to be funny, mainly in the differences between Rudd and Wilson's characters. Quite frankly, I think you'll either relate to the characters and like the movie, or you will find them unrelatable and will not like the movie. That's what the movie is really about anyways: That real beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
A psychiatrist in the movie says that he's found 1 true thing over the years...one truth that is relevant to all of us. That to be happy, one has to "figure out what you want, and then learn how to ask for it." Sounds simple, but couldn't be more challenging of a task. In this movie, we get to see a man and a woman figuring out what they want, and learning to ask for it. Though the film would have been much more effective as a 90 minute version, the journey through the relationship-psyche was rewarding to me in the end.
How do you know if you'll like this film? It probably depends on your current relationship thoughts, and your ability to take on a romantic comedy that doesn't follow the tried-and-true formulas of the genre.
Looking for a specific movie or review?