Title: How Do You Know

Directed by: James L. Brooks

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson

A great director, fun script and entertaining cast often makes for an exciting movie, even if at least one out of the three is present. Advertising for Sony’s new romantic comedy, ‘How Do You Know,’ starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson, and written and directed by James L. Brooks, promised to provide audiences will all three. But looks can be deceiving in this comedy about people trying to figure out what to do with their lives after their professional lives are ruined.

‘How Do You Know’ follows Lisa Jorgenson (played by Witherspoon), who’s entire life has been dedicated to playing professional softball. Now cut by the U.S. National Team, a 31-year-old Lisa has to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. While making the transition, she continues her usual streak of having a fling with an athlete, professional baseball pitcher Matty (portrayed by Owen Wilson), a self-centered ladies man.

Lisa’s love life gets complicated when she goes on a blind date with George Madison (played by Paul Rudd), a businessman who’s been accused of a financial crime. He gets fired by his father Charles’ (portrayed by Jack Nicholson) company when authorities close in on arresting him. After meeting Lisa, he becomes optimistic about life in spite of his legal troubles.

‘How Do You Know’ had all the potential to be a great comedy, as all four of its main stars have had successful comedic careers. Plus, Brooks has scored multiple hits, such as creating ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ and directing and writing ‘Broadcast News’ and ‘As Good As It Gets.’ But ‘How Do You Know’ failed to live up to Brooks’ previous works, as he wasn’t able to re-create in-depth characters or a profound story-line.

Not much information was given about any of the characters, which is surprising considering the movie’s message is that people can work through their problems. Viewers will want to know why softball is so important to Lisa, and why she has made it her life, but Brooks never visits her life story. The audience will also want to know why George is being investigated, but Brooks instead only showed him sulking and figuring out ways to feel better about himself.

The actors also seemed uncomfortable around each other, and Brooks’ poorly written jokes don’t lighten the mood. The prime example is between Witherspoon and Wilson, whose characters are supposed to be romantically involved with each other. But the two characters just seem awkward when they’re on-screen together, as they don’t knowing how to act around each other.

Witherspoon’s laid-back, unconcerned about life portrayal of Lisa is also surprising. The actress is known for playing characters who stand up for what they believe in, including her Academy Award-winning portrayal of June Carter Cash in ‘Walk the Line’ and her Golden Globe-nominated performances in her break-out roles, ‘Election’ and ‘Legally Blonde.’ It’s surprising to see her not take charge of Lisa’s professional and personal lives, and stand firm on taking what she wants.

The only relationship audiences will be left rooting for is between Lisa and George. Having worked with Rudd twice before, in ‘Freeway’ and ‘Monsters vs. Aliens,’ Witherspoon seemed genuinely comfortable with him. While Lisa and George meet at the lowest points in their lives, Rudd’s perfection of portraying a character who’s unsure of himself put Witherspoon at ease. This will leave many audiences wanting to see more of the two of them together on-screen.

The recent revelation of ‘How Do You Know’s absorbent budget of $120,000,000 also didn’t help the movie either. Fifty million dollars was spent on the four major stars and Brooks’ salaries alone. The other $70,000 was spent because Brooks moved his production slowly. Brooks defended the high budget and long production time by saying he started researching the film in 2005 to understand female athletes. He also said he wanted to get a “better perspective on the dilemmas of contemporary business executives, who are sometimes held accountable by the law for corporate behavior of which they may not even be aware.”

The high budget for ‘How Do You Know,’ its lengthy production time and the combined efforts of four great actors and a talented director-screenwriter should have guaranteed a fun, entertaining movie. However, Brooks’ failure to provide developed characters and humorous jokes will definitely turn many of his fans away from this comedic letdown.

Written by: Karen Benardello

How Do You Know Movie Poster
How Do You Know Movie Poster

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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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