HOW DO YOU KNOW * ½
Written and directed by James L. Brooks. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson. 120 min.
The name James L. Brooks screams “quality” to me. He has a TV resumé that boasts multiple Emmy wins for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, and The Simpsons. Pair that with an infrequent directing career that includes such great movies as Terms of Endearment (1983), Broadcast News (1987), and As Good as It Gets (1997), and I don’t need to see the preview to want to check out his next film. The colossal misfire How Do You Know will unfortunately change all that.
Reese Witherspoon stars as a 31-year-old champion softball player on the cusp of getting cut from the Olympic team. She’s experiencing an existential crisis when she realizes she doesn’t know what to do with her life after softball. Owen Wilson plays a handsome dim-bulb pro baseball player who is sort of interested in changing his lady-killer ways but has no idea how. Paul Rudd is a nice-guy businessman who is under investigation for some bad financial dealings. And Jack Nicholson plays Rudd’s boss who also happens to be his father.
Somehow, Paul Rudd’s character (I have no idea what his name is or what business he’s in) meets Reese Witherspoon through a mutual friend. This allows Rudd to change from being unbearably worried about his impending legal troubles, to being ridiculously sunny and hopeful around Witherspoon. She is supposed to end up with the nice guy at the end of the movie and since the movie is 2 hours long, it’s gonna happen then and no sooner.
So we’re saddled with a lot of time watching Reese furrow her pretty brow and wonder if Owen Wilson is potentially the right guy for her. He is so obviously not a one-woman man and he presents himself plainly as such. So it’s hard to get as upset as Witherspoon when he does his clearly well-practised morning-after routine, giving her a pink Washington Nationals warm-up outfit in her choice of sizes and her own toothbrush from a wide selection. Sounds pretty thoughtful, actually.
The title refers to the question “How do you know when you’re really in love?” I found myself playing “How do you know when you’ve stopped caring about the movie?” I tell you, it was very early on. I was stunned at how uninvolved I was in the story. The movie stars one of the most likeable casts (on paper) assembled in recent memory. And except for Owen Wilson, no one seems to be having any fun. Everybody else, especially Jack Nicholson, seems to be sweating like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. And now I want to do 2 things that will likely be quite easy: (1) Rent the infinitely superior Broadcast News, and (2) Forget I ever saw How Do You Know.