There’s no doubt How Do You Know is a mess of a film yet there is some charm to it and if not for the spastic screenplay it might’ve made for an acceptable, if not forgettable, romantic comedy. Instead despite the efforts of the three leads – not to mention a heavy dose of overacting by Nicholson – the film never really takes off.
Genre(s): Romance, Comedy, Drama
Sony | PG13 – 121 min. – $34.95 | March 22, 2011
Directed by: James L. Brooks
Writer(s): James L. Brooks (written by)
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson
Theatrical Release Date: December 17, 2010
Features: Commentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, BD-Live
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (DTS-HD MA 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 1.85
Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
THE MOVIE – 2.25/5
Writer/Director James L. Brooks’ latest film, How Do You Know, seems to be the tale of two movies that tries its best to mesh into one and that is largely unsuccessful.
The story centers on two people, both down on their luck: Lisa (REESE WITHERSPOON) is a star softball athlete playing for the national team but his cut as she’s deemed by the coach to be too old (31) to play anymore and since the only life she’s known was softball, the news is a deep cut. She takes comfort in the arms of MLB pitcher Matty (OWEN WILSON), a good-natured guy but is self-centered and makes no illusions to who he is.
Meanwhile, George (PAUL RUDD) is the CEO of a large company started by his father, Charles (JACK NICHOLSON), but soon he’s in trouble as he is the center of a federal investigation which ostracizes him from those in the company. When his girlfriend learns of this, she bails on a relationship she didn’t seem all that interested in maintaining anyway. This situation also allows for underlying issues between George and his father to come to a head.
So, you see there are pretty much two distinct movies going on here. One is a change of life romantic dramedy while the other could be a dark comedy about the corruption of the financial markets and companies with a father-son family dynamic at its core. Meshed together it makes for an awkward romantic comedy where the two potential love birds don’t share a whole lot of chemistry and even so, how they came together was clumsily put together anyway.
I can’t particularly blame the actors other than that they probably should’ve stayed as far away from this project as possible, but for their part the three gave it their all while one veteran (*cough* Nicholson *cough*) phones it in once again making his steady decline into his twilight years in Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong, I still like Jack and he still commands the room in every scene but his performance did absolutely nothing for me, especially since I didn’t believe for a second his and Paul Rudd’s characters were related.
In terms of the main cast, Reese Witherspoon has had somewhat of an interesting career. Her early roles have a minor following between the sexy teen drama Cruel Intentions to Alexander Payne’s dark comedy, Election (both films were released in ‘99). After those, her career only went uphill but, to me, downhill in quality save for Walk the Line in which she won an Academy Award and perhaps Rendition, a trite film with fine performances. Now with How Do You Know, a follow-up to the puke-inducing Four Christmases where somebody thought pairing her and Vince Vaughn was a brilliant idea, she at least takes a moderate step up in leading men, if only the script were better.
Speaking of the leading men, there’s no real surprises here. Once again, as in 99% of all romantic comedies where the woman has to choose between two guys, we get one who is obnoxious to the point that he obviously doesn’t respect the leading lady versus the other guy who, albeit has issues, is a decent fellow who would give her his whole heart. Who shall she choose, I wonder?
To be fair, in the confines of genre clichés, both Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson give it a try though at times Rudd did come off a tad too needy – with puppy dog eyes in tow – which is a definite turn-off for most women. In the meantime, Owen Wilson plays up the smarmy guy who isn’t completely bad just narcissistic and whose idea of love is when he uses a condom with other women. At least he practices safe sex… WINNER!
James L. Brooks as a writer and director doesn’t exactly have a glimmering, if not limited, record outside. Obviously he is known for the 1983 tear-jerker Terms of Endearment which earned Nicholson his second Oscar followed up with Broadcast News (an OK drama which succeeded in its satire on network news) and As Good As It Gets which gave Nicholson yet another Academy Award (third total if my math is right). Now it’s been 6 years since his last, Spanglish, and I admire his ambition for trying something at least slightly new in the drama-comedy-romance realm but it unfortunately never really comes together in an organic way. Instead it felt like these characters, George and Lisa especially, were forced together not because it made sense but because the screenplay said so.
In the end, that’s what it comes down to for How Do You Know, its two movies starring two different actors that somehow crashed into one another to make a bigger mess of a movie. The acting overall wasn’t too bad but these are veteran actors so at a certain point it looked like they sleepwalked through their roles. I guess when this eventually is shown 25 times on TBS it might be worth a try, otherwise you can skip it altogether.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.25/5
Feature Commentary – Writer/Director James L. Brooks and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski sit down for a decent commentary track although there’s nothing special as both men are fairly low-key. They provide some info on the story and such but there’s also a good amount of dead space as well.
Select Scene Commentary (32:55; HD) – This time James L. Brooks is joined by Owen Wilson for 10 scenes as they talk about the performance and characters. This one is a little more enjoyable than the feature length track though it could’ve been better.
Deleted Scenes (29:29; HD) – There are 15 scenes, including the original ending, that were excised plus an animatic and come with optional commentary by Brooks. None of these are that great and adding any of them back into the film would not have helped matters. Note: 11 scenes are ** Blu-ray Exclusives **.
Blooper Reel (1:57; HD) is a short clip reel of line flubs and on-set fun.
Extra Innings (15:02; HD) – This is your regular ‘making-of’ featurette with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with members of the cast and crew talking about the origins of the story, working with one another.
A Conversation with James L. Brooks and Hans Zimmer (25:59; HD) – Conducted in Zimmer’s personal studio, Brooks and composer Hans Zimmer discuss their background and working together. The two have a jovial conversation and actually this is probably one of the better features on the disc. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Interactive Script Gallery gives you the chance to read through the original script. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
“The George” (1:36; HD) – Now you can learn how to make the same drink Paul Rudd did in the movie with step by step instructions. For whatever reason, this comes with an optional commentary by Brooks. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
BD-Live – Provides access to info on other Sony titles. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
VIDEO – 4/5
Presented in its original 1.85 aspect ratio, How Do You Know comes to Blu-ray in 1080p high-definition and in a trend I’ve noticed in other recent releases (across other studio releases) it has certain warm color hues throughout. I’m not sure if it’s just how Brooks intended it to be or what, but it’s something to note. Otherwise, the picture is pretty well detailed even if it doesn’t pop off the screen though background elements aren’t as sharp.
AUDIO – 3.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio track, on the other hand, is at times subpar or, at best, average. I know the genre doesn’t call for anything extravagant but although the dialogue levels were alright, everything else from Hans Zimmer’s forgettable score to the sound effects weren’t making full use of every channel, effectively anyway.
OVERALL – 2.5/5
Overall, there’s no doubt How Do You Know is a mess of a film yet there is some charm to it and if not for the spastic screenplay it might’ve made for an acceptable, if not forgettable, romantic comedy. Instead despite the efforts of the three leads – not to mention a heavy dose of overacting by Nicholson – the film never really takes off.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2.