D/W: James L. Brooks. DP: Janusz Kaminski. Starring: Reese Witherspoon/Paul Rudd/Owen Wilson/Jack Nicholson/Kathryn Hahn/Molly Price/Shelley Conn/Mark Linn-Baker/Lenny Venito.
It is safe to say, if anything, that How Do You Know treads on difficult territory. Attempting to appeal to adults, induce laughter, and not fall into standard rom-com trends, well that is a feat for any studio film to attempt. However, despite the film’s marginal success at the box office, it is still able to almost reach its potential.
Right off the bat How Do You Know brings Reese Witherspoon’s Lisa and Paul Rudd’s George to the forefront. The film never attempts to align itself with either character or even with their eventual friendship. Witherspoon, having lost her spot on the Olympic softball team, finds herself at a crossroads in her life. Dating fellow player Matty (Wilson), helps her through this mess, but also kicks starts her path of self-discovery. Meanwhile, Rudd is dealing with a legal investigation that not only implicates his company, but his relationship with his father, played by Jack Nicholson.
However, amidst all these relationships, ultimately the film attempts to reinforce the inability or struggles of any individual to figure out what they want from their life, themselves, and their relationship. Although there are a few standard laughs between Witherspoon and Wilson, one the whole the film allows Witherspoon to tap at a more realistic portrayal of a modern woman trying to find her place. The film probably didn’t succeed as well as it could due to its slow pacing at moments and difficult demographic to hit. Nicholson, although sill at times, gives the film much needed weight and is an excellent scene partner to Rudd. Rudd and Witherspoon’s friendship throughout the film and deviation from standard rom-com fair, although great, probably hurt its chances filling seats. Yet by the end of the film audiences will be delightfully refreshed at a story about real people, figuring out their real lives, and making their own choices.