How Do You Know

01Well, it turns out you don’t, at least not according to this well-intentioned but uneven movie from writer and director James L. Brooks (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, As Good As It Gets), who tries too hard. Reese Witherspoon, starting to make a habit of these pre-Christmas releases (Four Christmases, 2008), Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson star in Sony’s How Do You Know, which contains disconnected fragments of fine romanticism and not nearly enough light humor. Lisa (Witherspoon) is an athlete cut from her team, which we don’t see enough of to care about, and, down and out like nearly everyone else in America, she hits the skids and winds up shacking up with a rich but shallow baseball player (Wilson), whom we also do not see playing ball. Along comes an honest businessman named George (Rudd), also nearly at rock bottom, who is stuck with Jack Nicholson’s louse of a father and the misfortune of doing business in the era of Obama’s anti-capitalism. We don’t see enough of George doing business, either, and the movie feels like it’s bobbing and weaving toward a half-baked conclusion about the love triangle. Laced with partial themes about being one’s best when life’s at its worst, there’s a better movie in here somewhere, and there’s certainly nothing repulsive for a change, but no one character emerges as realistic and too much feels as fake and forced as the constantly wet pavement. Still, I wanted to like How Do You Know, which drops the question mark, and the promise of happiness is buried but it’s there, in the contrasting views of father (“cynicism is sanity”) and son (“optimism is sanity”) and in a simple, inspiring scene involving a classic children’s toy that twinkles with an appreciation for the wonderful commercialism of Christmas. Unblemished by today’s nihilism, and Brooks throws in (deliberately or not) an Orwellian government poster (“Be Part of Health Care Reform”) which adds to the film’s downbeat undertone, Brooks has put better presents under the Christmas tree.

Support this site; Share