James L. Brooks, the writer and director that brought Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets, is back with his new film How Do You Know. It tells the story of Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) who, at 31, is being cut from Softball League Team and is struggling to find balance in her new life. It also focuses on George (Paul Rudd), a man who is somehow involved in a government fraud scandal and faces the prospect of going to jail.
As both of Lisa and George face their situations, complications crop up in the form of successful athlete Matty (Owen Wilson) and George’s father, Charles (Jack Nicholson). Matty is a confirmed bachelor who happens to have fallen for Lisa in a big way and doesn’t know how to handle being in a monogamous relationship. Charles, however, is not all he appears to be… does he have some weird involvement with George’s scandal?
This film is billed as a comedy and while it does have some comical moments, they are few and far between. It isn’t right to label this film in the rom-com bracket but it is hard to find it placement elsewhere. The script is not as slick as As Good As It Gets, which was a highly recognised film – particularly for Jack Nicholson.
The main problem with this How Do You Know is the characters do not mix. They don’t really hold any connection with each other and it almost feels as though it is a film with spare parts. Reese Witherspoon’s character Lisa is complex, she has focused on being an athlete for so many years that she doesn’t know how to handle the bombshell that is dropped. Instead of this being a cause for sympathy, it creates a neurotic, almost irritating, character.
Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson do not bring the same charisma that they have done in their most recent roles. Rudd in particular isn’t even as charming as he was back in Clueless in 1995. Wilson plays a bit of a goofy character that again you cannot hold any emotion or engagement with. Jack Nicholson holds gravitas in most films, but while his portrayal of Charles is in many ways ‘classic Jack’ it fails to light up the screen.
How Do You Know is a film that is lost; it doesn’t have direction, it doesn’t have scope, it just doesn’t know.
Best performance: Kathryn Hahn (Annie).
Best scene: When Annie nearly punches Charles
Best line: ‘You ethical mutant’.
Bill Murray was approached to play Charles and turned it down.