Dialogue Review – How Do You Know

Brandi Sperry: How Do You Know, the latest film from writer/director James L. Brooks, is a romantic comedy with an A-list cast that seeks to explore the question: when you are faced with a big choice, how do you know you are making the right one? Well, Allen, we are here to help our readers make their own big decision—whether to see this movie this weekend.

Allen Almachar: The film revolves around the love triangle between ex-Olympic softball player Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) and the two men in her life, baseball superstar Matty (Owen Wilson) and recently out of work George (Paul Rudd). George is the son of a wealthy businessman, played by Jack Nicholson. Early in the film, we find George under investigation from the U.S. Government for fraud. He loses his job, and all his associates attempt to distance themselves from him. If you were in Lisa’s position, then of course you would have trouble choosing who to be with: the wealthy, famous baseball player, or the out of work/possibly going to jail slub. Tough choice.

Brandi: Well, George does look like Paul Rudd, which I’m sure doesn’t hurt Lisa’s interest. Still, while we, the audience, know George is innocent of the alleged fraud (the details of which are either deemed unimportant by the filmmaker, or he just assumes the audience too dumb to care), Lisa knows only that he is under investigation by the government for something. This is neither here nor there when you are dealing with Paul Rudd, of course.

But let’s back up. Lisa, after being cut from the U.S. softball team at the ripe old age of 31 for losing 0.3 seconds on her run to first base (or whatever), takes a chance on spontaneity in her moment of reevaluation. She jumps into a relationship with notorious ladies’ man Matty when he declares that she might be the woman to change him, moving in after just a few dates. This set-up itself could potentially be the basis of an interesting rom-com….but then there’s George.

Allen: George comes into Lisa’s life by being referred by a friend, I think. George offers Lisa a contrast to the life that Matty gives her. Where Matty has had a history of quick flings and one-night stands (he even has a closet full of spare clothes ready to be given to his latest conquest), George offers her a partner that not only cares for her, but can care for her deeply. He attaches to every word that she says, looks at her longingly as if he’ll never see her again (which may very well be the case!), and forgets all of his problems when he is around her. Remember, they have just met at the beginning of the film, and yet after their first few meetings George treats her as if she is his soulmate.

Brandi: Many romantic comedies rush from meet-cute to love, but this one is just egregious in doing so. And then, this immediate devotion to Lisa is treated as a wacky-hilarious way to feel when coming from Matty, but supposed to be the height of destined romance when coming from George. It’s like the two storylines are taking place in different films.

Allen: One of the biggest issues I had with this film was that it simply did not have the spark, charisma, or charm that is required for romantic comedies. The four leads (Witherspoon, Rudd, Wilson, Nicholson) are all very talented, but here it felt as though they were simply walking through their roles. Witherspoon and Rudd had little to zero chemistry, their dialogue together was neither interesting or engaging, I did not feel any kind of romance between them. Nicholson, arguably the most charismatic and watchable actor to ever walk the planet, was completely dry in his role, and what his character does to George is both cruel and unbelievable. And the guy we are actually supposed to root against (Matty) turned out to be the most sympathetic character out of all of them!

Brandi: I agree, the lack of chemistry between Witherspoon and Rudd was borderline bizarre. (This may have something to do with the fact that she speaks to him as if he’s a pet she’s using as just another carbon life form to tell her troubles to, and he speaks to her as if he’s high.) Meanwhile, Matty, the guy we’re supposed to be rooting against, is the only one showing a believable trajectory of character development, as he tries with varying degrees of success to abandon his caddish ways. These scenes also offered the few genuine laughs in the film.

Allen: Few laughs for you, none for me. The movie was surprisingly difficult to get through; the plot was paper thin to non-existent, and the humor felt forced. I can almost pinpoint the exact moment when Paul Rudd actually forces himself to smile on camera. And you’re right, Matty was the most relatable character in the film. Yes, he was a self-absorbed womanizer in the beginning, but as the film went on he actually made an effort to change his ways to convince Lisa that he was a good man. Not what you would expect from the guy you’re not supposed to like.

The film just lacked any kind of energy or momentum. There was no sense of tension or anticipation or romance; it felt as though everyone involved was simply going through the motions of a romantic comedy. Throughout the duration I was searching for any kind of spark to wake me up and make me invest in what I was watching, but it never happened. Very weird, given that everyone here has been great in other work, including James L. Brooks, the director.


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Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

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