Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson, Kathryn Hahn, Mark Linn-Baker

Director: James L. Brooks

Writer: James L. Brooks

Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski

Original Score: Hans Zimmer

Running Time: 116 Mins.

How Do You Know… what a film is about when the title is this obscure? You don’t, and quite frankly the terribly mis-judged trailers haven’t helped, the most likely reason that James L. Brooks latest film flopped rather badly stateside around its Christmas time release. It is odd that a company should find it so hard to market a rom-com starring Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon,usually box office gold however this fumbling of the material from an advertising perspective is perhaps most appropriate as the film itself has been equally fumbled by drama/comedy/romance/relationship tackling director James L. Brooks.

Brooks is a director, and writer, who likes to juggle a lot of balls mixing up romance with life-lessons, family dynamic and human emotion in general, sometimes this scope works to fantastic effect as with As Good As It Gets and Terms of Endearment but lately he is off the boil, Spanglish was an unmitigated (and dull) disaster with a lot riding of How Do You Know in terms of Brooks reputation its surprising he didn’t amass something a little more substantial, as it is this is film that very much sits dithering between love story, gentle comedy and father son dynamics.

Of all these threads none are explored fully, the fact that all the characters are in some kind of early mid-life crisis is the supposed under-lying question, asking what we should all be settling for in a relationship…or if we should settle at all but each plot beat is handled so feebly (Wilson questioning what it means to be in love and given the response “I know if I’m in love as I wear a condom with the other girls’) while others are lavished with far too much time, in particular a serious legal case of fraud levelled at Rudd’s George. It’s a very odd way of exploring the relationship between father (Nicholson) and son and achieves nothing but making both men seem totally selfish and corrupt in their personalities, with the only saving grace being that Nicholson get’s more screen-time as the story reaches its head.

A reported $150 million was lavished on How Do You Know, with 50 of that going to the actors and director, this fact is baffling given the end result, with no-one really putting much effort in, Witherspoon can do cute in her sleep and doesn’t hit any acting highs that hint she is an Oscar winner, likewise Nicholson who (enjoyably, admittedly) goes through the motions with Rudd and Wilson simply playing to type, though Wilson does at least manage to make a truly despicable character irascibly likeable! Even the supposed laughs feel forced, bouncing from lame one liners (such as the condom line), occasional physical humour (thanks to Rudd) and some supposedly sassy remarks from the female co-stars.

The most glaring error is that these people needed just a nudge to be a little more interesting, and a more involving narrative, and Brooks seems afraid of not being mainstream however in pandering to a mainstream audience he has omitted any of the skill or talent so displayed in the likes of As Good As It Gets, so a small step up from Spanglish but miles off the mark of quality the man was to be remembered as having.

VERDICT

How Do You Know dithers between mainstream rom-com and more considered character piece, and as it does this the film loses any momentum it may have once had. The performances are mildly enjoyable in a stereotypical way (with the main players never straying from type) but from a director with such promise this is a big bland effort that wants to say so much but ends up telling us nothing.

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