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'How Do You Know' Movie Review

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating


Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd in 'How Do You Know'

Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd in 'How Do You Know'

© Columbia Pictures
How Do You Know is cute, harmless, and utterly forgettable. For a while it was being buzzed about as a potential Oscar contender, but that was based solely on the fact it's a James L Brooks (Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets) film starring Reese Witherspoon. Once people actually had a chance to see it, the buzz was cut off - and rightfully so. How Do You Know isn't that big epic love story we've been waiting for all year. Instead, it's simply a nice diversion and nothing more.
How Do You Know has a charming cast and an Oscar winning filmmaker at the helm. It had potential, but suffers from having characters who are...and here's the kiss of death...just blah. How Do You Know also disappoints because its blah characters act and talk like they're in a romantic comedy. There's barely a genuine moment in the film, and what does feel real has nothing to do with the three attractive leads but instead comes from supporting player Kathryn Hahn and her relationship with her boyfriend.

All the comedy beats are hit, just as you'd expect them to be in a James L Brooks production, but the maneuverings of the three involved in the love triangle are too staged, too Hollywood-ish. How could an Olympic athlete not make plans for the future after her career in sports ends? And what's the deal with not including the question mark at the end of the title?

The Story

It's a new season for the USA Softball team and Lisa (Witherspoon), a veteran player who's getting up in age, has just been cut. Her life has apparently been devoted to the sport and the team (we have to assume that as we never really see her passion displayed on the field), and now she's been cast adrift to find her way in a world in which hitting home runs is no longer important. Feeling totally lost, Lisa agrees to a blind date set up by one of her ex-teammates. Because if you don't have a job, then having a boyfriend is the next best thing, right?

George (Paul Rudd) is also having a horrible day. His powerful, domineering businessman father (Jack Nicholson) has just delivered the news that George is likely to be charged with engaging in illegal activities involving their company's finances. George proclaims his innocence, but despite his doe eyes and honest face, things are going to get hairy as all the evidence points his direction.

Given the fact the two are both miserable, their first date is a disaster. George starts going off about his problems and Lisa winds up suggesting they eat their meal in complete silence before calling it a night. Will this lead to a second date? In the real world, the answer's no. But in How Do You Know, George is immediately infatuated with Lisa.

Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon in 'How Do You Know'

Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon in 'How Do You Know'

© Columbia Pictures
The third side of the love triangle comes in the form of a major league baseball player named Matty (Owen Wilson). Matty's got a revolving door policy, with women coming and going through his bedroom on an almost daily basis. He's a player on the field and off, and Lisa knows this and says she doesn't care - until she realizes just how loose Matty really is. His bathroom's stocked with new toothbrushes and his closet looks like a department store with shirts and shorts of various sizes ready for any female who needs a fresh change of clothes before hitting the road. Lisa's blinders are removed and she storms off after a night of sex. And she should stay away if she's half as strong emotionally and mentally as she is physically, right? Wrong.

Somehow, someway, after all that drama, Lisa and Matty's relationship bumps up a level to boyfriend/girlfriend status. She even goes as far as to move in with the baseball stud since she's without a job which means making rent on her place is hard to do. Meanwhile George is struggling to come to terms with the fact he could be going to jail any day now. But when he runs into Lisa (Matty just happens to live in the same luxury building as George's dad - because this is a romantic comedy), George stops fixating on his legal troubles and instead fixates on Lisa. This makes Matty jealous, he reacts badly, and Lisa hits the road with her suitcases to George's house - an hour away by bus - because she needs somewhere to charge her cellphone. But after getting drunk enough to spill their secrets, Lisa leaves George to give Matty another chance.

All of this back and forth between men is sheer craziness on Lisa's part. Why is being alone such a bad thing when she's without a job and needs time to get her life together? Aren't there more important issues to deal with than playing ping pong between a guy who has no interest in learning who she is outside of the bedroom and a push-over with gorgeous eyes and a lengthy jail sentence in his future? There's lots of worrying over relationships and lots of wrong decisions made before How Do You Know takes us exactly where we knew it would go from the first 15 minutes.

The Acting and the Bottom Line

You can't help but like Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd as rivals for the affection of Witherspoon, although it's never really shown why they would both be so eager to be in a relationship with her character. Wilson and Rudd are naturally charming and able to make two typical rom-com-ish characters into guys we wouldn't mind hanging out with. Witherspoon looks great and plays an athlete convincingly. And even though there's very little actual time spent on the softball field, Witherspoon carries herself like a woman whose life has been dedicated to sports. The three have great chemistry, which makes the fact the story lets them down very frustrating and aggravating. The character of Lisa, even though Brooks has made her strong physically, is just one more example of a woman in a romantic comedy unable to stand up for herself without a man around to tell her what to think.
Reese Witherspoon and Owen Wilson in 'How Do You Know'

Reese Witherspoon and Owen Wilson in 'How Do You Know'

© Columbia Pictures
How Do You Know doesn't bend the romantic comedy rules (writer/director Brooks says it's not a rom com, but it sure felt that way to me) and instead falls right in step with the other middle-of-the-road genre fare. How Do You Know's not a horrible film, just a disappointing one full of wasted opportunities in its nearly two hour running time. And the payoff for sitting through How Do You Know is as predictable as it gets.


How Do You Know was directed by James L Brooks and is rated PG-13 for sexual content and some strong language.

Theatrical Release: December 17, 2010

Disclaimer: This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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