How Do You
Celebrated writer/director James L. Brooks certainly doesn’t rush himself.
In fact, How Do You Know is only his fifth new
film in the 27 years since releasing his Best Picture winning dramedy
Terms of Endearment in 1983.
that the guy has been slacking off completely – his production company
Gracie Films has been behind films such as Big, Jerry Maguire, The War of
the Roses and Say Anything, plus Brooks made a huge splash in TV
by bringing The Simpsons to fruition.
Still, Brooks has a reputation as one of the geniuses of Hollywood and it is
his own films that have given him that status. (Well, that and a stellar
sitcom career in which Brooks helmed classic series like The Mary Tyler
Moore Show and Taxi – so perhaps it is understandable that he is
slowing down after spending decades in the fast-paced world of television.)
However, more and more his films are not quite living up to his reputation.
In fact, his last completely successful film artistically was Broadcast
News way back in 1987. Since then, he has made some
pretty-good-but-not-great movies – As Good As It Gets (1997) and
Spanglish (2004). He has only had one complete and utter failure
to his name, the misbegotten musical comedy
I’ll Do Anything (1994).
Still, when one of the acknowledged giants of filmmaking averages a movie
every five or six years, when a new one comes you
expect to be blown away.
How Do You Know
also reunites Brooks with
Jack Nicholson in a supporting role. Nicholson has always been a good luck
charm for the director, appearing in his best films: Terms of Endearment,
Broadcast News and As Good As It Gets.
was it worth the six year wait since Spanglish?
really. Not that it’s a bad movie. In many ways it is quite good.
However, it is no where near as good as we know that Brooks is capable of
creating. It’s not even near as good as its coming attractions trailer
suggested it would be.
a shame, really, because How Do You Know has attractive, likable
leads, an interesting storyline and some very sharp writing. The operative
word, though, is some, because often, with little warning, the
character dialogue and actions veer from smart and funny to odd and
overwrought. (This awkwardness manifests itself
even in little ways, like the filmmakers’
odd insistence on not using a question mark in the film’s
Rudd’s lead character in particular gets caught in this trap. Rudd does a
fine job of acting, but the things the guy says and does are often impossible
plays George, a young exec at his dad’s firm who has finally found love and
professional gratification, only to have it all fall apart when he is placed
under investigation by a Federal Grand Jury and upon
hearing the news, his girlfriend leaves him.
George’s dad Charles (Nicholson) – who has a complex relationship with his
son, to say the very least – tries to do what he can to help, yet at the
same time Charles places nothing over his own self-preservation.
distant friend of George’s hooks him up with one of her teammates on the US
women’s softball team. Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) has her own problems going
on in her life – she is cut from the team because it is decided she is too
old at 31. (An example of Brooks’ uneven writing here is the fact that when
later in the movie Lisa alludes to this same friend who
supposedly connected them, she acts like George wouldn’t know who she was.)
After George and Lisa have a historically bad first date, she falls into a
relationship with a shallow professional baseball player named Matty (Owen
Wilson). George holds onto the hope that when he gets his life sorted out,
he will be able to work something out with her. After they run into each
other on the elevator (her boyfriend and his dad live in the same building –
small world…) they become friends though George keeps hoping that it will
turn into something more.
this is where the problems start to settle in. After a good chunk of time
where the film was mostly going smoothly, George’s character suddenly starts
talking like… I don’t know what exactly, but certainly not a man. He is
over-the-top complimentary one moment, passive-aggressively nasty the next,
sappy, soppy, confessional and overly emotional.
is at first, naturally, a little freaked out by this wholesale change of
personality but then eventually she falls into the same
screenwriting traps as well.
a writer with a canny ear like Brooks, the frequent clunky dialogue is
alarming – and it is made even more incomprehensible because at other times
even in this film, Brooks nails the way people speak.
However, other scenes are unbearably over the top and twee – one
immediately to mind
George and Lisa witness his secretary (the normally reliable Kathryn Hahn,
who is hung out to dry in this story) and her boyfriend
(Lenny Venito) first sharing the birth of their
new baby together.
Still, for all the clunky and awkward moments – and there are too many
of those here – How Do You Know still works much of the time. A
movie when James L. Brooks is coming in at 50% is nonetheless better than
many directors’ A-game.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: December 25, 2010.