‘How Do You Know?’ – An Unanswered Question

Paul Rudd at Hollywood Life Magazine’s 7th Ann...

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How Do You Know?” has been described as a “state of the art romantic comedy”. It is difficult to imagine how a romantic comedy, or indeed any comedy, can be defined as “state of the art”. The film has no modern features or changes to the plot to suggest that it has improved or developed the genre to such an extent to award such an accreditation but it remains the fact that this is how it has been described. I view this film as nothing more than the addition of another film in the long list of romantic comedies to be otherwise consigned to the shelves of Blockbuster for sale.

The film stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman who has been dropped from the USA Softball team after dedicating her life to her career. At the age of 31, she is dropped from the team and becomes involved with another major character in the film, Owen Wilson as ‘Matty’. Matty is an American baseball player and professional athlete, making the relationship and dynamic between the two characters representative of the conflict facing Reese Witherspoon’s character, Lisa. She is witnessing success while being sidelined and consigned to watching it. In comes Paul Rudd as George, a down-on-his-luck corporative executive being investigated for stock fraud. He is honest, amusing and, at times, a whimper of a man.

As Rotten Tomatoes describes on its website, “How Do You Know boasts a quartet of likeable leads — and they deserve better than this glib, overlong misfire from writer/director James L. Brooks.” The description is apt and proper. It is not simply the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Owen Wilson, major components of past romantic comedies but the likes of Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson who stars in this desperate attempt by both director and writer to meet some critical success. In a quarter that has seen the release of major title contenders such as The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Black Swan and The Way Back, this could have been a heart-warming success for avid cinema attendants. Instead, it is contrived, needless and will leave those starring in it wondering what it is that made them think this film would be a success.

The notion that this film could be described as “state of the art” is in the plot. It focuses on the careers and successes of two characters. Reese Witherspoon’s Lisa is seeking a new path in life. Paul Rudd’s George is being investigated for stock fraud. Neither are powerful or impressive plot lines. From beginning to end, this film holds a few laughs in store at the cost of different characters but there is nothing especially comic about it. It is too absorbed in its search for meaning. The ending is the biggest relief. The problem is that, coming from a male perspective, we expect something more realistic in films that concern the dynamic of human relationships. The idea that a woman would leave a multi-million dollar success for a man being investigated for fraud is neither believable nor realistic. The notion that a federal government would not discover the link between father and son in their investigation of stock fraud is implausible.

This is what is the main problem with this film – stretching our belief in the concept of love to its breaking point and then breaking it. We like to believe that this film would restore our faith in the heart-warming, gut-aching sentiment of romantic love but it merely reminds us that our own lives are not filled with the drama that the cinema appears to have us believe. Women of the world may find this film hilarious and heartwarming but I view it as an unsuccessful release in an otherwise successful quarter for the film industry.

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About ICaithness

Such is the nature of life that it is difficult to describe oneself, for the simple fear of complete subjectivity. I, for one, would propose that others look to my friends, companions and acquaintances for an analysis of my personality. Alas, I find that I must write something in order to inform my readers of my personality and my linguistic nature. In order to do that, I shall write as objectively as I can. There is little to be said for the sparse writing that I do on occasion, save that it often has a philosophical undertone and best represents the person that I am. Writing is, as was once seen, a beautiful and therapeutic method of examining the world. The words we create are mere 'mirrors to reflect the creations of Nature'. In essence, our hand creates that which reflects our life best. Philosophical though I may be, there is much more to me than pure complex and abstract thought. I am no more a philosophy than I am a man. It is only the presentation of said self that helps to create an identity, a face which represents life in all its glory.

Posted on January 30, 2011, in Film, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I don’t see why you included the line assuming women would be inclined to see the situation more realistic. I’m a woman and detest “romantic comedies” and most of what Hollywood recycles, for that matter. I really appreciated the post up until that one statement. Relationships are hard, dirty work. Love can be incredibly ugly. Romantic comedies maybe remove people from those situations- suspension of disbelief. I know that this genre is geared toward women, but male consumers, like you, have viewed it. Hollywood certainly takes that into account. Nice review- even if I object to certain observations.

    • That’s a fair point. I agree that the observations made may not, necessarily, apply to all women. I believe that the original thought when I wrote the line was to observe that women, on the whole, are geared towards ‘romantic comedies’ and that is Hollywood’s main audience. I apologise if there was any offense caused. What I meant to say about the film is that there is a “romanticisation” of love, the typical “happy-go-lucky” approach. This film tried to shift that emphasis towards a more realistic end but still, ultimately, ended up being the same. It’s not a statement against women and their beliefs, their values or anything like that.

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