Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some strong language, 120 minutes
Sweet but talky, overlong "How Do You Know"
I'll let you in on a couple of things before you go to the new romantic comedy "How Do You Know." First, the sweet, leisurely film is too talky for its own good and goes on too long, but its heart in the right place. Second, of all the high-caliber cast in the film, you will enjoy Paul Rudd the most. Yes, you heard that right. Rudd has never been more charming in this very expensive rom com ($120 million, with nearly half of that attributed to salaries of the major players) that has a lot riding on it.
Reese Witherspoon is professional women's softball player Lisa Jorgensen, who finds herself cut from the team and forced to find a new life. She soon finds herself in a love triangle with a self-absorbed professional baseball player Manny (Owen Wilson), a player on and off the field, and George (Rudd), a schlub from the financial sector who finds himself in legal trouble with his business partner and father (Jack Nicholson).
"How Do You Know" is a warm but overlong, heartfelt rom com that's heavy on the dialogue, unsurprising given the writer and director is noted director James L. Brooks, who over the years has channeled relationships to Oscars ("Terms of Endearment,") to TV cultural icons ("The Simpsons"). "How Do You Know" isn't one of his stronger efforts, but then it isn't a terrible one, either; it's a pleasant but unrevealing piece of puffery with a high-powered, expensive cast and production.
If "How Do You Know" is a failure (which, given its $120 million price tag, is a strong possibility), the one most to lose will unfortunately be the likable Witherspoon, very pretty here but then it's not a strong women's role, again a surprise from the guy who got an Oscar for keeping peace between Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger. Brooks' uneven script is one of his most flawed; it spends too much time on the Witherspoon-Wilson relationship (who display little chemistry here) and then Witherspoon's character goes on and on trying to make a decision the audience knows she'll make anyway by the end.
Thankfully, the other guy here is charming comic actor Rudd, who's the heart of the film and by far the film's most sympathetic character. Rudd's comic reactions and timings are perfect, and he continues to reveal a versatility that comprable actors would desire (namely Wilson, in another one-note variation of most of the roles he plays). Jack is, well, Jack; fortunately, nearly all of his scenes are with Rudd, and their warmth is the film's most palpable highlight. Nicholson, who's worked with Brooks several times before, also scores the film's biggest laugh (no explanation needed, you will know when that is).
"How Do You Know" is a pleasantly sweet, enjoyable, if not chatty, film. People talk on and on about doing things instead of just doing it and going with the flow. Brooks and company have their heart in the right place, but it tends to stay there too long deciding what to do. Let's hope audiences (and lots of them given its cost) will stay with it too.