James L. Brooks, executive producer of The Simpsons, is not hurting for money. This should be comforting to him as new movie ”How Do You Know” is not going to get back a lot of the $120 mil it cost to make.
All of Brooks’ previous six movies are about the lives of intelligent, sassy women. In this new movie release he has forgotten about his smart eye for the detail in these women’s lives and seems to be projecting something fake. Reese Witherspoon can’t even pull off her role as an ex-athlete who can’t decide between nice but troubled Paul Rudd and millionaire Owen Wilson who can’t keep his hands off other women. This one of the new movies of this Christmas season has very little to offer.
James L. Brooks has been responsible for not only “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” but Oscar winners and top 10 movies like “As Good as it Gets” and “Terms of Endearment.” For years women were thrilled to get a script by him or be directed by him. He came up with parts for women that were never condescending and had lots of laughs and insight into the lives of women. Watch a movie clip of any of the above and you’ll see his genius. His star began to dim with” Spanglish” and “How Do You Know.” Now he’s depending on the dregs of his reputation.
As soon as Reese Witherspoon is introduced as an ex-Olympic softball player, the viewer knows that something isn’t right. First of all, what heroine of romantic comedy is a professional softball player? That’s just lame. But in this movie, softball is Lisa’s (Witherspoon’s) raison d’etre. So when she’s cut from the team because she’s old (31), she’s very upset. She’s now unemployed and actually has to take the bus. It makes you wonder if she’s living with Matty (Owen Wilson) because she has nowhere else to go. The hardships she faces because she’s unemployed leave a black cloud hanging over “How Do You Know.”
As for George, played by Paul Rudd, he’s in the throes of being indicted, unfairly, for stock fraud. The company involved belongs to his father, Charles, played by Jack Nicholson. Since the company is in trouble, George is also without a job and really doesn’t feel up to a date with Lisa. Their first date takes place in total silence, oddly enough, providing more chemistry than any other scene in the entire film.
A big talent of Brooks is to take a group of characters and manage a tight connection. That’s missing in this film. His characters are certainly talking plenty but they’re not saying much. Lisa is a weak character. She moves in with Matty, partier that he is, and when he messes up, she turns to nice guy George, and then back to Matty again.
Owen Wilson’s Matty is the best part in the film. He’s a two-timing cad but he’s rather endearing in that he’s trying to be better. Unfortunately, Wilson and Witherspoon have no chemistry: Witherspoon is tentative, confused and her expressions are exaggerated.
When the characters fail to click and the laughter slows down, it’s only natural to take a good look at Brooks’ choices. The characteristics that are so natural in a romantic movie seem unreal in this one. There is no reality sizzling under the surface of “How Do You Know.”
There’s only one touching scene in the entire movie. It’s when Al, played by Lenny Venito, proposes next to the bed of George’s assistant Annie, played by Kathryn Hahn. He’s been putting off the proposal because he couldn’t imagine her marrying him. This film is way too close to the junk that Jennifer Anniston and Katherine Heigl are normally seen in. Brooks definitely needs to rediscover his mojo.