How Do You Know had tremendous buzz when it first hit theatres last year, due to the pedigree of the cast and crew behind it. Directed by James L. Brooks and featuring a whopping cast that included Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson, this was set to be on of Sony Picture’s big holiday movies. No matter how good the cast and crew may seem, if the story doesn’t work, especially for a romantic comedy such as this, then it just won’t work. And, sadly, for the most part, this film just doesn’t work. The film just doesn’t seem to be able to make up its mind on what it wants to be – the typical fluffy romantic comedy we see time and time again, or a more serious approach to the whole romantic movie genre – and we end up with uneven story that seems to stumble along until its finally finds it footing….at the end of the movie.
From legendary director/writer James L. Brooks comes a humorous and romantic look at the How Do You Know question. When everything she’s ever known is suddenly taken from her, Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) begins a fling with Matty (Owen Wilson), a major league baseball player and self-centered ladies man. Before their relationship takes off, Lisa meets up with George (Paul Rudd) a straight-arrow businessman facing his own serious issues, both with his father (Jack Nicholson) and the law. Just when everything seems to be falling apart it doesn’t.
This movie looks great. How Do You Know has plenty of great cinematography and well-composed shots, shots that really bring us into the story of these three characters trying to get everything together. But…that’s pretty much the only things that works for this movie. Well, Reese Witherspoon’s natural pluckiness goes along way, actually, making her character really likable, but she’s the only real standout in this unbalanced movie of romance. The film wants to work, but there’s so many things working against it that it just doesn’t gel in the end. Heck, I don’t think the film itself knows what it wants, bouncing back and forth from a straight drama-type to the fluffy tripe, only aiding in the film’s unbalanced feel. It’s not until the end of the movie that the film finally seems to know what it wants.
However, the end credits start to roll and all you can do is throw you hands up.
There are times when this movie is enjoyable to watch. Again, Witherspoon easily carries this movie on her charm alone, and she’s good when trying to maneuver through whatever wacky relationship hi-jinks she gets herself thrown into in the duration. Even Wilson’s Matty and Rudd’s George are pretty enjoyable characters when the film concentrates on Witherspoon’s Lisa being wooed by two different fellows, but the film never goes beyond that. We get Rudd over-acting (which is a shame as I’m a big fan of the actor) and Wilson playing t so casual it’s hard to tell if he’s even acting at all. I understand the film is trying to present these two opposites pulling Lisa in different directions, but it’s done in such a manner that it appears too over-the-top to be taken serious. And this is when the film’s unbalanced feeling kicks in. We get some sitcom-esque shenanigans with the love triangle that’s immediately stopped as we have to face with some dead-serious personal problem that just grinds the film to a halt.
How Do You Know tries to balance that Romantic-Comedy/Drama thing and it can’t. It’s neither funny enough nor dramatic enough for either side to hold any weight. The movie really finds itself in here and there, when the relationships come into direct focus and some of the unnecessary “drama” or “comedy” is jettisoned, and especially in the end when the Rudd’s, Wilson’s, and Witherspoon’s characters decide on, basically, who ends up with who. But even then, given how the film is somewhat of a difficult endeavor to endure even with Witherspoon’s likability to pull in the viewer, there isn’t any real tension nor do we really care who ends up with what. While the film tries to make us care for the lives of each of these characters, and their current problems and issues they’re all dealing with, we just…don’t.
It sounds really harsh, yes, but this film is kind of frustrating in that regard. This film has a lot going for it, but more than a few missteps just sabotage it, unfairly so, too. If the film could just find its voice, I’m sure everything else would have fallen into place easily. I can see it. The juxtaposition of Wilson’s and Rudd’s character is as clear as day, but with the film unable to nail that balance between comedy and drama it seems as though Rudd’s character should be off in some sitcom somewhere. And Wilson? Again, his approach to the character is so casual that it’s almost too low-key for the movie. But any viewer can see why these characters act the way they do, and if the film could figure itself out it would work I’m sure. But here? It just doesn’t have the chance.
I wouldn’t call How Do You Know a bad movie, just one of missed opportunities. There’s everything here to make a great film – a solid cast, good characters, an excellent director and a story that is worth telling – but it just…falls apart somehow along the way. The film just can’t find that balance it seems to make everything seem cohesive and whole and, because of that, it just kind of meanders along until it hits a nice stride right at the end. However, by that time we just don’t care for these charatcers and don’t have any emotional investment in how it plays out. If anything, I’d recommend it for a Rental but nothing more.
Sony releases How Do You Know in single disc Elite Blu-ray case without any fancy frills about it. Menus are simple and easy to navigate and…well, that’s it. The AVC encoded presentation accurately portrays the films generally upbeat and sunny visuals, which means that you get quite a bit of natural lighting to illuminate the scenes. Amidst all that is an incredible amount of detail on faces, clothing, skin, buildings, outdoors…pretty much any surface or texture you can think of is accurately represented here in impeccable detail. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is pretty quiet in the surrounds, but delivers all of the dialogue out of the front channels with extreme clarity. It’s a fairly quiet film so don’t expect a reawakening of your home theater setup with this one—though the clarity that Blu-ray offers in both the audio and visual department is still a boon to have.
• Audio Commentary with writer/director James L Brooks and Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski
• Select Scenes Commentary (32:56, 1080p) with Brooks and actor Owen Wilson
• Deleted Scenes (29:29, 1080p) with optional Brooks commentary
• Blooper Reel (1:57, 1080p)
• Extra Innings (15:02, 1080p)
• A Conversation with James L. Brooks and Hans Zimmer (25:59, 1080p)
• Interactive Script Gallery
• “The George” (1:35, 1080p) with optional Brooks commentary
It figures that one of the most aggravating and irksome movies has one of the most robust extras list for a romantic comedy type of film I’ve ever seen. The commentary alone is pretty technical and whatnot, so if you’re interested in that side of things, give it a listen—there really isn’t a lot of script discussion, as Kaminski’s inclusion seems to gravitate it towards the artier side of things. The rest of the extras are pretty meaty as well, over an hours’ worth in all, that are all interesting in their own right…though I question why Zimmer got his own featurette (though he seems to a lot lately, so maybe it’s a stipulation for him scoring the film). In any case the extras are fairly worthwhile to check out if you enjoyed the film…but chances are you won’t, so the mass of bonus material is a bit of a head scratcher. Oh well, at least we don’t have to worry about a double dip anytime soon (or ever). Still worth a Rental, but nothing more.
How Do You Know is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Film review by James Harvey
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter