Judge Patrick Naugle don't know nothin' about birthin' no romcoms.
Our review of How Do You Know, published March 22nd, 2011, is also available.
Love is a funny thing.
James L. Brooks has done a lot of good work during his tenure in Hollywood. Here's a guy that has helped steer The Simpsons to TV legend. Brooks was behind such classics as Taxi and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He's even popped up in amusing cameos in Albert Brooks (no relation) films Modern Romance and Real Life. Oh, and he's made some of the best, most perceptive romantic comedies of the last three decades. So give the man his due as his latest film, How Do You Know, hits Blu-ray care of Sony Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Lisa (Reese Witherspoon, Sweet Home Alabama) is a talented Olympic softball player who suddenly finds herself cut from a team she loves and in an unfulfilling relationship with a fellow professional ball player, Matty (Owen Wilson, Meet the Parents), who treats monogamy as a four-letter word. George (Paul Rudd, Role Models) is a straight-arrow white collar businessman who is facing a federal investigation at his workplace, owned by his gruff father (Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets). This investigation could send George to jail, even though he's clueless about why he's being investigated. When George and Lisa's lives collide during a blind date they find themselves stumbling into a friendship that neither one expected. As Lisa attempts to figure out her feelings for Matty and George works on his slowly dissolving relationship with his father, both parties find that love can blossom at the most unexpected of moments.
How do you know I liked How Do You Know? Hopefully by reading this review!
Sorry, I just had to include that joke. We now return you to your regularly scheduled review…
Romantic comedies. Just saying those two words sends a shiver down many a male's spine. It's the rare romantic comedy that doesn't revel in cliché; most romantic comedies are so stale and uninspired you could chop 'em up and use them as croutons in a bowl of soup. To make matters worse almost every romantic comedy made these days seems to star either Matthew McConaughey or Jennifer Lopez and are so lazy they skirt narcolepsy. Sure, once in a while an original idea sneaks through (the wonderfully witty (500) Days of Summer being a prime example), but mostly the genre has run aground and is beginning to rot. It's to this end that weary filmgoers like myself turn to people like James L. Brooks to save us from banality; Brooks is one of the industry's most talented storytellers—his funny and skewered viewpoint on romance and courtship are often a breath of fresh air in comparison to the drivel being churned out by Hollywood.
Brooks newest film How Do You Know stars Reese Witherspoon ('America's Sweetheart,' as she's been dubbed), funnymen Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson, and Brooks staple Jack Nicholson (who appeared in three other previous Brooks films: As Good As It Gets, Broadcast News and Terms of Endearment). I'm going to start with the bad news first: How Do You Know is not nearly as good as most of Brooks' pervious efforts. Those heading into How Do You Know expecting an exceptional James L. Brooks comedy are going to be disappointed; if Brooks' previous films were treasure troves of amusing, perceptive human behavior, How Do You Know is more of a small jewelry bag that contains some very bright gems and a lot of filler.
How Do You Know's biggest problem is that it's never as complex as it should be; this is one of Brooks' first films that wallows (at times) in cliché, something the director has steadfastly avoided in the past. When Lisa's choices appear on screen—Paul Rudd's George and Owen Wilson's Matty—you know without a shadow of a doubt which leading man Lisa is going to end up with. Wilson's Matty is such a sleazy (if amiable) guy and Rudd's George such a shining example of honesty and perseverance that the outcome is preordained before the movie can dig deep into the plot. Luckily, the How Do You Know is such a breezy joy that I didn't mind knowing the outcome—I just went along for the ride and reveled in the actors' interactions with each other. The plot may be lackluster but the performances are often spot on.
All four of the leads are likable and funny, something that is often a rarity in romantic comedies these days. Witherspoon in adorable and winning as Lisa; the only major flaw I can mention is that considering she's a professional baseball player we never get to actually see her play baseball for more than a few seconds. Owen Wilson the actor plays a variation on Owen Wilson the character—so laid back that even his slacker attitude and sleaziness comes off as charming. Paul Rudd fares the best of the three—his George feels three dimensional and is amusing as his character's personal ship slowly starts to sink. This is the kind of character Rudd was born to play; neurotic, smart and sarcastic while staying bafflingly optimistic. Finally there's Jack Nicholson as George's father—Nicholson's moments feel more like a glorified cameo than a fully fleshed out character, but he does well with what brief material he's offered.
The critics gave How Do You Know an unfair beating during its box office run. When compared to James L. Brooks' other films, How Do You Know certainly falls short of greatness. However, taken on its own terms, How Do You Know is a cute, absorbing film that made me laugh and tugged at my heartstrings. That's enough for me to give it a recommendation for hopeless romantics everywhere.
How Do You Know is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen in 1080p. I was impressed with how attractive this transfer appears—there is a very natural 'film feel' to the image and it's free of any major defects or blemishes. The colors and locations look great (a lot of praise goes to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski) and the black levels solid (there are a few night scenes that make the city look spectacular). For this kind of a film—a romantic comedy—the transfer is well above average and pleasing to the eye.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in English. Oh, those poor romantic comedies—they often get the short end of the stick when it comes to surround sound mixes. How Do You Know isn't much different—while the mix is clear and features a few surround moments, this is generally a very front heavy 5.1 audio that offers little in the way of dynamic sound. Then again, considering the material there isn't really a need for a showy soundtrack. Dialogue, music and effects are clear and well heard, making for an adequate track. Also included on this disc are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles as well as 5.1 Master Audio mixes in French, Portuguese and Spanish.
How Do You Know's package includes a few extra features, the best of which is a an audio commentary by writer/director James L. Brooks and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski discussing a lot of the nuts and bolts about both the production as well as the story and its characters. Although this commentary isn't 'fun' in the traditional sense (it's often technical and dry), it is a good listen for fans of Brooks' films. Also included on this disc are some select scene commentaries with Brooks and actor Owen Wilson (around a half hour worth of material), almost thirty minutes of deleted scenes that were justifiably cut from the final film, a 2-minute blooper reel, a fifteen minute featurette titled "Extra Innings" that is your standard promotional fluff piece, "A Conversation with James L. Brooks and Hans Zimmer" discussing the two filmmakers collaborations, an interactive script gallery, "The George" featurette and some BD Live features.
If you're a big James L. Brooks fan, prepare to be disappointed by How Do You Know. The good news is that even Brooks' biggest disappointments are better than 98% of most romantic comedies out there. I can easily recommend How Do You Know for its sometimes perceptive nature and because Jack Nicholson yells and blusters better than anyone else in the business.
How Do You Know is found not guilty 'cause it's just too darn cute to
go to jail. Oh, and the guy who played Cousin Larry in the TV show Perfect Strangers is in it, and
haven't you wondered what he's been up to the last 25 years?
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