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“How Do You Know” when you’ve wasted your money on a movie?


While exiting the screening of “How Do You (FAIL) Know”, one "How do you know" photo credit to Sony.spunky old lady led the charge out of the theater. With impeccable timing, she exclaimed, “That was the worst movie I’ve ever seen.” The entire crowd broke out into cheers and laughter. It was a great moment, but that doesn’t exactly bode well for this film’s theatrical prospects.

How Do You Know may not be quite as terrible as that angry moviegoer claimed, but it is indeed a meandering, pointless, and frustrating film. Perhaps the most shocking thing is the amount of star power involved including an award winning director as well as two-Academy Award winning actors.

How Do You Know is in essence, a romantic comedy with a very interesting idea stretched into a two hour running time without explanation. It’s as if director James L. Brooks (As Good as it Gets) said “Hey, how do you when you are in love with the right person” and then proceeded to sit for two hours on that thought and call it a movie. Perhaps he forgot that when you make a movie something has to actually happen.

The movie opens with Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) a professional female softball player who’s past her prime and needs to figure out where to go next with her life. She is set up on a date with George (Paul Rudd) an incessantly neurotic mess who is being sued for millions of dollars due to some corrupt shenanigans that went down in his family’s company. He’s immediately transfixed by Lisa, and proceeds to contemplate calling her for a second date. Meanwhile, Lisa moves on and starts dating a completely insensitive jock named Matty (Owen Wilson), who can’t comprehend the word monogamy and keeps women’s clothes in a spare closet for when one night stand’s spend the night.

The plot thickens (what plot?) when a feisty spat causes Lisa and Matty to take a break and she ends up spending the night at George’s. The two are platonic, but George is clearly a bumbling fool for her, and he listens to her problems, as opposed to Matty, who is a free spirited but selfish, self absorbed athlete who unintentionally deprives her of attention. This creates a love triangle of sorts perpetuated by Lisa’s stress over life direction and George’s legal struggles with his father’s (Jack Nicholson) company.

The common thread that runs through How Do You Know is one of annoyance. All of the characters are irritating, especially Witherspoon, who has such a lovely presence, but flounders here. Her indecisive character is both grating and off-putting, eventually sinking any patience the audience had in the opening half of the story. Rudd is better at first, wonderfully awkward and genuinely sweet in a way. However, as the story progresses, he gets creepier, and part of that is due to a poor script that never explains his infatuation with Witherspoon. We get it, he’s obsessed, but why? Finally, Owen Wilson is basically one note, but comes off the most successful here, providing some genuine laughs at least along the way.

Director Brooks has had his moments (he even mastered chick flick cinema with Terms of Endearment) but he’s clearly slumming it these days. His story has absolutely no focus at all, and any hold on the material he has at the onset is relinquished by the final thirty minutes, which are excruciatingly slow. Normally a master of character, the individuals he creates here are mostly empty, aimless shells with the exception of Rudd, who nails the balance of neurotic and charming at times.

Anyone who has seen the trailer for How Do You Know seems to have the same reaction: “What the hell is that movie about?” The entire film only reinforces that notion. Making a romantic comedy upon which we all know the conclusion isn’t always a bad thing (it’s an understood notion considering the genre) but there has to be some kind of purpose for being there. The audience also has to root for those characters to get to that happy ending, instead of desperately checking their i-Phones every five minutes to see if it’s over yet.

Better luck next time Reese.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

Photo credit: Sony