How Do You Know
By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
An uncomfortable blend of self-absorption and sexual waywardness on the part of its major characters prevents the cheerless romantic comedy "How Do You Know" (Columbia) from engaging viewers.
Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd star in "How Do You Know."
Instead, the few laughs and insights provided by writer-director James L. Brooks' script hardly seem worthwhile, all the more so given that subjects such as womanizing and single motherhood are played for laughs.
Having just been cut from her team, champion softball player Lisa (Reese Witherspoon)—a dedicated athlete who has poured her all into the sport—faces an uncertain professional future. Her amorous prospects don't seem much more promising when she wakes up on the morning after a one-night stand beside major league baseball player Matty (Owen Wilson).
Though good-natured, Matty is also an unabashed philanderer who—as Lisa discovers—keeps a closet in his apartment stocked with women's clothing for the convenience of his overnight "guests."
When Matty's straightforwardness about his lifestyle inspires Lisa to recognize that a satisfying roll in the hay was all she was really after, this is not only treated as some sort of positive revelation but, paradoxically, as the basis for an ongoing relationship between the two.
But Lisa is still playing the field, so she accepts a dinner invitation from neurotic businessman George (Paul Rudd). Facing an indictment for stock fraud that could land him in jail—and destroy the company founded by his hard-driving dad, Charles (Jack Nicholson)—George is as forlorn as Lisa.
Though the pair passes their first meal together in miserable silence, contemplating their woes, George is nonetheless drawn to his new companion.
As matters progress, Lisa moves in with Matty, but keeps George stringing along as well. While Lisa tries to choose between her suitors, this oddly unsympathetic trio wastes the audience's time endlessly analyzing their every emotion and reaction. Does Lisa want to talk about her fears or just keep mum? Should Matty really have said what he just did or was it a big mistake? And what should George do about his bullying father?
A subplot about George's plucky secretary, Annie (Kathryn Hahn), finds her pregnant but unmarried. While the story line moves toward an acceptable resolution, there is no suggestion along the way that her behavior involves any questionable moral choices. Rather, her out-of-control hormones are treated as comic fodder.
Although themes dealing with the insecurity that accompanies unemployment and the complications caused by financial double-dealing may be intended to strike a timely chord with moviegoers, the real question raised by this exercise in extended navel-gazing is not so much "how do you know?" as "why should you care?"
The film contains brief nongraphic sexual activity, a nonmarital situation, a promiscuity theme, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a birth-control reference, at least one use of profanity as well as a couple of rough and a few crude words. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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