How Do You Know is a bad title for James L. Brooks's newest romantic comedy because you'll 'know' all you need to know in a few seconds: Reese Witherspoon is the girl, Owen Wilson is the inattentive boyfriend, and Paul Rudd is the nice guy. As the nice guy, he will slowly become the love of her life. How do I know? Like a game of Clue, it's how these stories work.
Lisa, George, and Matty
Reese Witherspoon is Lisa, a baseball player who's forced to retire because she hit the bright bold age of 31. (Don't bother worrying about her job though, as it's never mentioned again.) She says to her friend that she's not cut out for the next stage of life--the part where she finds a man and bears children. But that's exactly what she does, immediately fixing herself with multiple dates and moving in with a guy she knows is bad news. But then again, how do you know? Matty (Owen Wilson) is a rich baseball player who has a closet full of pink "day after" women's clothes, organized by size and complete with his logo. He also has a drawer full of toothbrushes and can't remember one Lisa from another--the sort of man who is ready for monogamy.
Then there's "the other man," George (Paul Rudd). He's a lovable goof who's facing jail time for crimes his father Charles (Jack Nicholson) probably committed. He's enraptured by everything Lisa says, does, or looks at. Why? That's his job in the movie. Mostly, he runs away from his problems (literally) and then whines about how they aren't going away. But he's honest, so you're supposed to feel bad for him.
Lisa must end up with George because he's the nice man and no romcom would pick a rich jerk over a nice guy. If only Lisa could hear the music that plays whenever George looks into her eyes. She'd know then, right?
Is it okay that I just said that?
I figured the formula out almost instantly. So, out of popcorn and in a sort of malaise, I began to wonder how this movie stretches on for 116 minutes. Is it magic? Not really. Lisa, George, Matty, and Charles just can't say one line without prefacing and appending it with two more. When you're lucky, they only add a simple "is that okay?" to the end of a sentence, fishing for reassurance. Most of the time, you won't be so lucky. The cast spends far more time voicing their inner monologues than acting on them.
Charles, the corporate exec who is sending his son to jail, can't speak without trying to "calm down" and be more respectful of George's feelings. George, for his part, makes somber statements and then apologizes for them, constantly claiming that he's having a terrible day, week, month, whatever. Lisa spends half her time throwing her hands up and walking out the door, and the other half walking back inside and apologetically explaining why she just walked out the door and why she's back inside now. And then there's Matty, the funny, dumb, narcissistic jock. Like all Owen Wilson characters, he over-apologizes every time Lisa gets mad and over-explains his feelings whenever she has a wandering eye for George, but can't stop acting douchey every moment in between.
Do you want to know?
How Do You Know a movie about one woman who can't figure her feelings out and two guys who think she's the bees knees. One of them is nice and one is dismissive. All three of them have better things they should be doing and none of them have chemistry. I wish they would face their problems. Instead they spend 116 minutes trying to fall in love with one another.
They are all written the same. They all say stupid things, take them back immediately, and apologize only to say more stupid things, take them back, and apologize again. It's like the Lamb Chops song that never ends...It just goes on and on. I am probably as socially insecure and needy as they come (I'm not needy, am I?), but James L. Brooks, you've got me beat.