How Do You Know gets by on charm

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How Do You Know

By Matt Brunson

HOW DO YOU KNOW

**1/2

DIRECTED BY James L. Brooks

STARS Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson

Often as likable as a frolicking puppy — and always as messy — How Do You Know is one of those pictures in which everyone is so gosh-darn charismatic that the battle — at least for the filmmakers — is already half over. When compared to writer-director James L. Brooks' early efforts in television and cinema (Broadcast News and Mary Tyler Moore are two of the all-time greats, and Terms of Endearment and Taxi aren't too shabby, either), this latest work is a mere trifle. But it's a fairly clever one, with Reese Witherspoon cast as a professional softball player forced to choose between two guys: a baseball star (Owen Wilson) who's so smitten with her that he agrees to a monogamous relationship (albeit one with the occasional "anonymous sex") and a squeaky-clean executive (Paul Rudd) being bamboozled by his corrupt dad (Jack Nicholson) into taking the fall for the old man's illegal activities. Witherspoon and Rudd are both adorable, and Nicholson has one killer scene set inside a hospital room. Yet given the occasional blandness of the couple's romantic interludes and the haziness of the latter's business dealings, the movie works best when Wilson is front and center. The actor doesn't stray from his patented mellow schtick, but by subjugating his hangdog aura for a more aggressively horndog sensibility, he provides the film with its most knowing laughs.

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