Sunday, February 20, 2011

#64: How Do You Know

In this James L. Brooks 2010 comedy, protagonists George (Paul Rudd) and Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) find themselves in two difficult professional situations and try to work their way out of the mess. While George is being targeted by the US Govt. for inflating his company's accounts, Lisa who is a national softball player is dropped from the team in favor of some fresh blood. In an unrelated incident, Lisa's friend sets her up with George for a date and the two make some sort of a connection over a dinner without being explicit about it.

Enter the smart and popular baseball player Matty (Owen Wilson) who is seeing Lisa. Matty is the guy who is looking to settle down, be 'monogamous' and sees in Lisa that someone to go the distance with. Lisa, on the other hand is still trying to come to terms with her recent disappointment. In Matty, she finds someone she can sleep her worries with but his constant approval-seeking behavior isn't comforting for her. Meanwhile, George has to figure out the source of the financial irregularities being investigated against him even as his father (Jack Nicholson)constantly keeps reminding innocent George to own up to the crime. With a simple linear narrative, we go through these issues in the lives of these four characters.

With a steady progression, the movie entices you towards the problems of Lisa and George, particularly the latter. As a viewer, you stay interested to know how the situation is going to get resolved and in that lies the movie's strength. James L. Brooks who in the past has made some delightful gems like As Good As It Gets, nearly gets it right with a subtle handling of the issue of relationships between mature people and a father and a son. Paul Rudd is entirely believable in his character while Owen Wilson as the zealous boyfriend will irk you with his mannerisms which means that he has done a good job. Reese does what she does best and that is to bring sincerity to her role. It is a pity though that Jack Nicholson has been wasted in his role as George's conniving father.

The movie doesn't bore you because it has enough warmth to keep you engaged. It could've been easy to fall to a cliche in resolving some of the conflicts in the movie but James L. Brooks' typically nuanced writing will see you through satisfied by the end of it. That said, the movie could've been 20 minutes shorter to make it crisper instead of the drooling pace it operates at. Also, I didn't find anything exceptional for the movie to justify a $120mn budget. Did it need a Jack Nicholson or a Reese Witherspoon for these characters to drive home the point- surely not.

How Do You Know is a different but not exactly a fresh look at a love triangle between three characters with an additional sub-plot. With a few smart lines sprinkled to tug your heart and some tidy performances, it makes an honest attempt to win you over. But since it's nothing new, you won't exactly be bowled over by it. It still deserves a watch because we all know what James L. Brooks can do when he nails it. Well, this one got away but it still has got his special touch.

Rating: 6.6/10

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