How Do You Know has a great cast. That’s about the most positive thing that can be said about it. It also has a director in James L. Brooks who has won many awards in his time. How all of that talent got wasted here is anyone’s guess. How $120 million was spent on a simplistic romantic comedy is another mystery. Everything just seems to have been wasted in this production; the money, cast, director — even the city of Washington DC should be disappointed that it was featured in this movie.
It takes a while to figure it out, but the main character here is Lisa (Reese Witherspoon), a woman who has dedicated her entire life to playing softball. She practices three hours every day, is adored by her teammates, and by all indications is one of the best players in the country. Unfortunately, she’s also 31, and is one of the last decisions to be made in regards to the national team. The coach decides that intangibles and work effort aren’t everything, and cuts her because of her age and the fact that she was .03 of a second slower running to first base. Essentially, she’s cut because there needs to be some conflict in her life.
I say that it takes a while to figure out that she’s our lead because there are a few other characters who get a lot of screen time at the beginning of the film. There are two male characters that she eventually starts getting close to, as well as an older gentleman who is the father to one of these males. She begins the film dating Matty (Owen Wilson), a relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals who doesn’t understand the first thing about a serious relationship. He’s not seen from a lot after a certain point in the film — the Nationals are on a road trip — but his character somehow gets the most growth overall.
I’m completely blown away by how little development all of the people in this film get. Matty starts out emotionally uninvolved and gets … kind of involved in the relationship. Lisa stays exactly the same throughout, learning nothing and not growing at all as a person. The other characters stay static as well, even while their lives are crumbling apart. The other romantic interest is George (Paul Rudd), an executive of a company who receives a letter in the mail telling him that he’s being sued by the United States government for … something or other. It doesn’t matter. He’s in deep trouble.
George’s father, Charles (Jack Nicholson), is the kind of person who doesn’t go easy on anyone. He’s the one who founded the company, and George’s mistake, whatever it may be, is causing him great stress. In their first scene together, you can see how they’ve had a troubled relationship for the first 30 odd years of George’s life, and you might expect that to fix itself over the course of the film. It does, but it’s in the very next scene where any tension between them seems to have magically dissipated.
Most of the plot revolves around Lisa toying around with both of the males in her life who are in love with her. She can’t pick, although we can’t really either. It’s hard for the audience to decide who she should pick because there’s absolutely no reason for them to be with someone like her, nor is there much reason for her to be with them. There’s no chemistry between any of the characters, and the way that Lisa was written made it hard for us to root for her to end up with anyone who would make her happy.
There’s a major twist part way through, although all it does is set-up a contrived reason for the film to end. I was happy after that, though, as it meant a couple of things: (1) I knew exactly how the movie would end, as it’s clichéd and like many, many other movies, and (2) more importantly, the movie was finally going to end. Romantic comedies — especially those devoid of both laughs and genuine romance — do not need to be just under two hours long, but that’s what we have here. I was just glad when I knew it was going to end; I could have seen it going on for hours and hours longer.
The only character I liked in the film was Paul Rudd’s. Perhaps he was the one I was supposed to be cheering for. I was never sure. He loves Lisa, and he seems to actually care about her, but because she has few redeeming qualities, he’s kind of stupid for pursuing her. I don’t want him to end up with her because it would be bad for him. She uses people and only cares about #1, so why would I want the slightly charismatic guy to persuade her to give him a chance?
Even Jack Nicholson’s few scenes couldn’t save this complete mess of a movie. He’s only there for a couple of moments, but still manages to get a couple of laughs with his rants and raves. Apart from him, everyone else is lifeless and unfunny. This is a very dull comedy, which is just the worst. You can sometimes deal with a horror movie that fails to scare or a drama that fails to make you feel anything, but an unfunny comedy is probably the worst way to fail when making a movie. That’s what How Do You Know is.
How Do You Know is an awful romantic comedy filled with unlikable characters, unfunny situations, and a general waste of talent. Each major member of the cast has been in great movies in the past, but here they’re wasted by a director who has also previously been worthy of accolades. There isn’t much of a plot, the characters are all one dimensional and don’t progress as the film does, and it’s not at all funny, save for one or two scenes with Jack Nicholson that serve as the only highlights.