on December 30, 2010
My wife and I really enjoyed "How Do You Know." The script itself was slightly on the bland side, as others have noted, but the film itself is redeemed by some great performances and excellent direction and editing. For us, it generated consistent laughs and smiles throughout the film, as well as lots of undercurrents and multileveled themes to ponder after we left the theatre.
What really made the film work for me were the performances of the Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd. The Director / Writer (James L. Brooks) spends lots of screen time doing closeups on the faces of these three performers, allowing us to see the interplay of complex emotions on their faces as they wrestle with the dilemmas they are confronting. This would not have worked unless Mr. Brooks was able to coax finely tuned and believable emotions out of these excellent actors; and he is superb at doing so.
The flip side of this is that it takes time to allow these emotions to play out, so the film seems slower paced than films that are more concerned with situational comedy (and perhaps then less concerned with exploring the emotional depths of relationships).
Combined with this are some really hysterical scenes. Owen Wilson has long been known as a great comedic sidekick, and that well-honed character he always seems to play - bumbling, shallow, narcissistic and clueless - plays well in this film. Yet, even his character plumbs emotional depths I've never seen from him in other films. Paul Rudd, who I am not as familiar with, also did a great job. Yet, what makes the film shine is Reese Witherspoon's performance. You really connect-with her character. The film ends predictably, and was foreshadowed from the very start. I would have preferred another few minutes to give us insight into the outcomes of Reese's choice at the end of the film.
I saw some interesting themes and visual statements popping up again and again throughout the film, such as the way in which the characters would engage in extended dialog with one of them offscreen, before they'd walk into the shot at the end of the conversation. There is also a great scene where Rudd's and Reese's characters play-out their own feelings for each other by helping an acquaintance with her own marriage proposal. Another interesting contrast, which intentionally sums up the relationships each had with her - was the gifts the two male leads both offer to Reese's character just before her "Birthday party" - how they were presented, what they meant to the givers, and Reese's reactions to them and their presentation.
Ultimately, the film explores the difference and relationship between external and internal love, between self love and love for other, between sacrificial love and self preservation. It does it well, and it does it in unexpected ways. This is definitely a film I will purchase when it comes out on Blu-Ray and watch several times to really "get" all of the more subtle messages and themes being presented. I think the pacing could have been a bit better, and I was a bit let down by the ending as I said, so will rate it four stars - really good, but some room for improvement.
on January 2, 2011
Apparently it's a bad thing that "How Do You Know" takes the time to develop characters who have real wants and needs, who aren't afraid to be uncertain about things, let it's plot unfold naturally, let it's scenes linger and take their time; because "How Do You Know" was hated by critics and audiences a like. This baffles me. This wonderful picture from the great James L. Brooks does, for me at least (and apparently I am alone on this one), everything a great film should do. It engaged me emotionally and intellectually, I related to the characters and their problems, I found it to be human and funny and their struggles were timely. Brooks' film is an ode to those who are just off center of making their lives work and I found it next to irresistible. Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson are all terrific here, delivering witty, honest and well rounded performances. The film is nicely directed, beautifully shot and attentively written. In a year when films have to be all high concept and surreal images trump character and motivation (yes, I'm looking at you "Inception" and "Black Swan"), "How Do You Know" is a lovely breath of fresh air. I just can't fathom how people can dislike such an honest and moving picture, but apparently, it's very easy.
If you are a fan of James L. Brook's pictures or are someone who likes a good, natural, character study, I really recommend you check out "How Do You Know".
on December 1, 2011
The modern recipe for romantic comedies in Hollywood is all too familiar:
o Take one actress that female ticket buyers can relate to
o Add one actor funny enough that the guys won't mind paying to see
o Mix them into a situation where they can't stand each other
o Sprinkle in a quirky sidekick or two to keep things interesting
o Bake them in adversity for 90 minutes
o And by the closing credits the pair will be happily matched, your faith in love will be renewed and you'll leave feeling satisfied.
That recipe must still work for people because Hollywood keeps serving us these familiar dishes, but thankfully the movie, How Do You Know, strays from the formula and shows that there are movie makers out there willing to try something new.
Or should I say, "Something old?"
One of the cool things about this movie is that both my wife and I realized just as it ended that we felt like we had just finished watching a GOOD, old-fashioned Cary Grant movie.
There's nothing wrong with that, is there?
There was no potty humor to placate the immature, there were no skanky shots to appease the shallow... there were just honest, thoughtful adult characters trying to do right by themselves and others and stumbling a bit in the process, so I can see why this movie doesn't appeal to everyone.
In a world with seemingly increasing numbers of snide, jaded and critical people, not everyone has in their circle people who are genuinely selfless. If a moviegoer doesn't know people like the characters in this movie, it is easy to see how they wouldn't enjoy the film. How could they? These characters and their decisions would just seem implausible and ridiculous to them I'm sure.
This movie is about (and probably for) that minority of people in our harsh world who carefully and deliberately choose their own perspective and feelings, and try to make them sanguine. If that's not you, or you don't know people who really are like that, then I can't tell you if you will like the film.
How Do You Know was a pleasant surprise that will resonate warmly with some people, and disappoint others.
How Do You Know opened in late 2010 to atrocious reviews, arguably worse reactions from audiences, and went on to become a box-office bomb coming nowhere near recouping its $120 budget. This budget has been oft-discussed, as $50 million went for star salaries alone and you'd be hard-pressed to find the other $70 million onscreen. This is the sixth film to be written and directed by James L. Brooks, who works almost exclusively in romantic-comedy and writes some of the most charming, intelligent dialogue one would be pressed to find in the genre. Is it one of his best films? No. But a bad romantic-comedy by Brooks is far better than the average, mass-produced rom-com that hits the multiplex on what seems like a weekly basis. I have issues with the film like all viewers do, but the amount of criticism it's received is unfathomable to me; being a romantic-comedy, it really is better than 90% of the dreck that's released in this genre.
Reese Witherspoon is Lisa, a 31-year-old softball player who is adored by her teammates but sees her career coming to a halt because of her age. Trying to start a new phase in her life, she begins dating Matty Reynolds (Owen Wilson), a clueless, womanizing pro-baseball player whose insensitivity she finds oddly charming. George Madison (Paul Rudd) is a young executive who discovers that he's the target of a federal investigation and is informed by his father Charles (Jack Nicholson) that he could be facing a possible indictment. As this is a romantic-comedy, you know that George meets Lisa at this unique crossroad in their lives and falls for her, leaving her torn between Matty and George. Kathryn Hahn co-stars as George's pregnant assistant Annie, who is quite the scene-stealer among these big marquee names.
The quality of this film is all about perception, as there's nothing inarguably good about it. Its quality comes completely from how you respond to the material and how well you think the material is performed. If you look at the negative reviews (and there are many) you will see comments like it's "boring," "too long," "has unlikable characters," etc. I did not feel this way at all, which leaves me firmly in the minority. If the film has one big flaw it is probably the characterization. Brooks is a good writer but his creation of the central characters is heavily flawed here, particularly in the relationship between Lisa and Matty. It's hard to see why Lisa would be attracted to Matty let alone why she would continue to actively pursue a relationship with him, as he remains a static character throughout the film. Despite this, their relationship takes up a significant portion of screen-time. Lisa is a strong, fairly intelligent female protagonist but her intelligence becomes questionable due to her taste in men. It takes a while before she warms up to flawed, but extremely loveable George, yet she likes Matty almost immediately. With that said, I didn't find these characters unlikable as they are played by actors charming enough to off-set any un-likability. Even though his character's relationship with Lisa makes little sense, Wilson carries his role very well and is responsible for some of the film's funniest moments. Even with weak characterization, Brooks' characters seem more developed, multi-dimensional, and intelligent than the usual caricatures that populate these types of films.
Witherspoon is a capable actress, adorable as Lisa and Rudd is an actor of intense likability and immense charm. The two have a very cute, believable chemistry together that likely stems from how likable they are separately and their relationship develops in a somewhat unconventional manner. I'd like to see them work together again, as they are the heart and soul of the film. Of course, you can't not discuss the legend that is Jack Nicholson, an actor of such greatness his mere presence in a movie can bring a smile to your face. Reuniting with Brooks for the fourth time, Nicholson is playing a creep but he's still Jack and it's hard to hate him. His first scene, in which he angrily rants at George to the chagrin of Annie, brought me great pleasure and solidified for me why Jack has reached a level of such legend that people know who you're talking about when you say his first name. Many have complained that Nicholson sleepwalks through the role on the basis that he's Jack Nicholson and doesn't need to deliver a performance; but I found Jack to be one of the highlights of the film. He's not in many scenes, but I found his facial expressions and dialogue some of the most grin-inducing moments. Finally, Hahn is a scene-stealer as the really sweet, down-to-earth Annie who brings an earthy quality to the more high-class, problematic proceedings. It's a joy to watch.
At 117 (without end credits), How Do You Know is longer than the typical romantic-comedy but I never felt it was being drawn out or becoming too long. The first time I saw it, I was aware of its length but untroubled by it. The second time, I remained blissfully unaware of the length. While many have failed to recognize it, Brooks still has a knack for writing wonderfully warm, comedic scenes. The hospital scene is a great piece of writing and execution, with Nicholson's entrance being hilarious in a low-key sort of way. Also, Rudd's "Play-Doh" speech is adorable and another wonderful example of Brooks' writing. Essentially, I found this film just like the actors that inhabit it; charming and likable. It may not be "great," but I enjoyed it much more than I expected to and it left a big, goofy smile on my face.
I don't believe that what I've written will change the opinions of those who have already seen it. I can offer nothing to sway those people to agree with me; but hopefully this shows that there are people out there who actually really like this film and are unable to comprehend the vitriol some people have for it. I can't recommend this film to any particular demographic or promise that you'll feel as I do about it...But I hope you do. If you enjoy this movie as much as I do, you're in for quite a treat.
on May 11, 2015
Honestly, most of the reviews I read were pretty accurate. Obviously this movie did not have much critical or financial success, and it's not hard to see why. It's not great. BUT, the performances are great. And if you are a fan of any of these actors (sans Nicholson who isn't given that much to work with), you will enjoy just watching them. Personally there isn't much that Paul Rudd does that I don't like and I enjoyed him in this. I will say the script was odd...just out of sync or something. It felt like they had a bunch of cool lines that some writer had come up with and they tried to write a movie about these lines and there really wasn't much of a story there. I agree with one person who commented it could have been SO much better. With this cast and the "idea" I think it could have been a much more touching story. But again, if you like Reese, Owen or Paul, you'll find some enjoyment in this movie. All of them were very appealing.
on December 25, 2011
the cast: a great lineup, love reese in just about all of her other films, and Paul Rudd too, and Jack, well seems he would only choose something that was special and would flow. I saw the plot and it seemed like it would work... only 2 hours later by the time the credits were rolling, for me, it didn't work. I found myself struggling to even finish the movie. I even stopped a few times to do other things and came back to it. The script and lines, just didnt seem to flow and weren't genuine. Even a couple of unecessary F bombs, which was surprising for a PG-13 movie. The chemistry between, actually both on screen couples, Owen & Paul just didnt seem to be there.. Just a disappointment because with some tweeking to the script and other things, this movie could have had good potential at being really good. Sorry, can only give this romantic comedy 2 stars, thats for effort.
on March 19, 2016
I think some important stuff got left out of this story. Does this girl play softball for a living? What kind of job does she have and does she ever go to it. They waited way too long to reveal to her what the viewer has known since the first scenes - she has been dropped from the team. So, why is she so full of angst if she doesn't even know yet? Why on earth would she give up her apartment and move in with a guy she doesn't trust and doesn't even like very much? Reese Witherspoon does wonders with a weird role. I normally cannot stand Owen Wilson but he is likeable in this. He takes a part that is all jerk and turns it into someone human. I always love Paul Rudd and this is a perfect role for him. As Jack Nicholson has aged he has played this same type of role so many times that he can do it without thinking and it's obvious. But, he fit the role like it was written for him and it probably was. I would love to have seen some sort of real resolution at the end instead of it leaving us just hanging there. Is this jerk really going to let his son go to jail for something that he did? At the end of the film I believed that he would do just that. It's actually a pretty good movie but I kept having the feeling that it could have been a lot better.
on March 19, 2016
Let me just state up front, I love Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and, especially, Jack Nicholson, but this movie, even with all this talent, just did not do it for me. I watched it in its entirety and then wondered WHY did I waste my time?
on March 15, 2011
While the critics panned this one, I must say that this movie is well written, the cast is enjoyable and has great chemistry, and it is a kind, warm movie. It came out at the same time as the Tourist, and me and my husband went to see both films. In my opinion, How Do You Know? was much btter than the Tourist in terms of the message it sent across and the after-feel I had when the movie was over. So, if you enjoy romcoms such as Love Actually, Two Weeks Notice, Notting Hill, Penelope, The Family Man, The Proposal, No Strings Attached, etc., you will really enjoy this movie.
on June 28, 2011
Now I know I'm out of step with current preferences. The average comedy today seems to consistently feature emotionally immature, narcissistic boy-men, and women who are trying to be tough at work but are insecure and confused about how to have any kind of grown-up relationship. The characters are virtually interchangeable from one movie to another. Since I'm an avid movie-lover, I'm not that hard to please, but am too often left cold or indifferent.
Then along comes this supposedly "bad" movie, which I finally Netflixed since I like the director. It has characters I DID care about, and I wanted to give it 41/2 stars in contrast to what's out there. Life thas thrown Lisa and George some curve balls (pun intended), but they are BOTH striving to be caring and self-responsible people (how retro!) and figure out how to move on with their lives. I loved the performances of Reese and Paul (just watching their faces change was delicious), and I agree with another reviewer that Owen found a deeper layer too. Jack was Jack. I was particularly taken with the attention paid to supporting characters and the unique friendship George had with pregnant and emotional Annie. The hospital scene was moving and funny, worth watching the movie to see. But there were many little treats along the way. e.g. 1) Lisa's attempts to rise above her pain with post-it-note slogans,like she did in baseball. 2) the power of silence at the restaurant (what, not even text messaging?) etc.
I am buying this movie, and hope they don't give up making little gems like this. My scales have already tipped to independent and foreign films, so Hollywood is way behind in the battle for my dollar. And just for the record, I see many movies in theaters and have a collection of THOUSANDS. And my friends pay attention to my opinions. There's a bigger market out there than 20-year-old males. Are you listening, Hollywood?