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THE HOT ROCK, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

HOW DO YOU KNOW: YOU DON’T KNOW WATCHING THIS

The romantic comedy has taken some serious hits over the past few years. What was once a major staple of a night out at the movies is slowly dissolving into a thing of the past. Lets fact it, the bad examples of this genre far outweigh the good. But the majority fall into that middle of the road category, the one where the movie isn’t quite that bad but it’s also not one you’ll watch again. Such is the case with HOW DO YOU KNOW.

Directed and written by James Brooks, the man behind AS GOOD AS IT GETS, BROADCAST NEWS and TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (sorry but I never liked this one no matter how many people love it), what we have is a movie that looks good with great stars but that leaves you with little to remember or recommend. The movie revolves around two major characters. Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) is a professional woman’s baseball star hoping to get on the roster of the latest USA team. She doesn’t make it and in a slump ends up trying something new by getting involved with a pro baseball player named Matty (Owen Wilson).

Prior to her involvement, Lisa was supposed to go on a blind date with George (Paul Rudd), a young Wall Street exec, who cancels their date on the phone since he’s involved with someone already. That all changes when George becomes the target of a Federal investigation at company he works for, owned by his father Charles (Jack Nicholson). Down on his luck, his girlfriend dumps him to concentrate on her own needs.

Lisa’s involvement with Matty is everywhere. One minute they’re fine, the next they part ways. During one of those times apart, she finally meets with George for a dinner date. For George it’s love at first sight. He adores everything about Lisa. Unfortunately the feelings aren’t reciprocated and she goes back to Matty after a phone call.

These two characters keep bouncing back and forth into each other’s lives through the whole film. Things look well and then Matty does something stupid in the most stereotypical dumb jock mode there is. Lisa leaves and then later comes back, hoping for the best. All the while George sits to the side hoping that Lisa will leave Matty and he might get the opportunity he botched with that first phone call.

The movie is mainly about Lisa and her search for love. And when she thinks she’s found it she’s never quite sure if it’s really love, infatuation or just what it is. Thus the title of the film.

So here’s the thing. This cast, as I said, looks great. They perform quite well. But while I might like the characters I never feel involved with any of them. They all seem too self-absorbed in their own problems and when they do decide to consider someone else they almost always mess it up. Sure, life is messy but this is a movie, a comedy no less. I want to be entertained and not sit there uninvolved with the main characters. The only one I found myself caring about was George’s secretary who knows what’s going on at the office but can’t tell him and wants to so badly.

The movie is beautiful to look at. It’s well photographed and the sets look delicious. These are streets you find yourself wanting to walk down. But no matter how good the photography or the sets, a story needs to be presented that you enjoy. It never happens.

Brooks has shown some incredibly deep movies. He’s made us look deeper into worlds we never visit and makes them interesting. He’s made us invest in characters and their lives, hoping against all hope that they survive everything he throws at them. But here, it’s just kind of bland. It’s not boring but when it finishes you just feel sort of empty.

When released all everyone could talk about was the cost to make this picture. The stars were paid astronomical sums. Brooks ran over budget shooting and reshooting pieces. The fear was that the movie wouldn’t make back what was invested in it and those fears came true. After watching this it’s easy to see why.