How Do You Know
Review by Jack Foley
THE last time James L Brooks teamed up with Jack Nicholson the results were, almost literally, As Good As It Gets. Alas, their latest reunion falls some way short of that status.
Admittedly, Nicholson isn’t the focus of How Do You Know, a romantic comedy drama about disconnected people attempting to make sense of their lives, but given the talent surrounding him that’s not really an excuse.
Rather, the problem lies in Brooks’ disconnected screenplay, which seems utterly divorced from reality, not to mention hopelessly contrived!
The story essentially follows two lost souls: Lisa (Reese Witherspoon), a former softball champion who finds her life falling apart when she is cut from her team, and George (Paul Rudd), a businessman facing prison for a crime he didn’t commit thanks to the shady dealings of his boss and father (Jack Nicholson).
A blind date brings these two together on the worst day of their lives but provides enough of a spark to enable Brooks to explore the fundamental question driving his script: ‘how do you know you’re in love?’
Alas, rather than investing the ensuing picture with the type of warmth, insight, camaraderie or even piercing observation that exists in all of his best work (from As Good As It Gets through Broadcast News) Brooks opts for unlikely plot contrivances and characters who are difficult to engage with.
Hence, Rudd flounders as a man staring prison and ruin in the face who keeps running away from his problems, Witherspoon comes over too neurotic and even Owen Wilson ends up a self-centred (but strangely likeable) narcissist who has little grip on reality.
Nicholson, meanwhile, has his moments but seems at odds with a screenplay that requires him to go into ‘mad Jack’ mode one moment, and supportive dad the next. There is simply no consistency to the script.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have moments… the odd look (usually from Nicholson), quip (from Wilson) or physical reflex (in Rudd’s case) does muster a chuckle or two, while Brooks deserves credit for refusing to ever portray his characters as anything other than flawed.
But his latest ensemble struggles to become at all identifiable as everyday people, while their continual need to talk things out and immediately assess what they’ve just said (often mid-flow) rings frustratingly hollow.
Coming from a writer-director of Brooks’ standard, that’s all the more disappointing. Although, perhaps more worryingly, it proves that his last mis-fire Spanglish was no fluke.
Rather than prompting audiences to consider the big questions that Brooks would rather have you debating afterwards, How Do You Know’s only notable discussion points become ‘what went wrong’ and ‘why is there no question mark in the title’?
Running time: 121mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 20, 2011