A Brief Rant: How Do You Know

Reese, I couldn’t have unexpressed it better myself.

As I lay in bed this evening (early morning), I found myself thinking about James L. Brooks’ latest film, How Do You Know – a film I caught merely for Paul Rudd’s involvement. This isn’t a film worth discussing in detail by any means, so this will be more a nag than a review.

The feature opens on a boy, a younger Matty, who can’t manage to hit a ball resting on a tee. He fumbles about a few times before shamefully withdrawing from the baseball diamond. In steps a girl, a younger Lisa, who thwacks the ball off of the tee in her first try. Young Matty proceeds to push Lisa over. Later, he will do it time and time again. Twisted enough, this is the pleasure center for the narrative, and if not that, then not at all.

How Do You Know is a feature that presents its eccentricities more as shill idiosyncrasies. Unlike As Good As It Gets, there is no real reason for anyone to do anything they do. That film’s momentum – as well as charm – was initiated by personal issues that the characters could not change or deflect. The main characters were an obsessive compulsive writer, a neurotic single mother, and a completely beaten homosexual artist. They weren’t particularly characters with whom we could each relate, but there was plentiful misfortune mixed with their peculiarities that made them (for the most part) people we could empathize. The humor lay in their predicament. Here, there is no real predicament. Lisa doesn’t know who to choose between – nice guy George or self-proclaimed panty-chasing reformist Matty. George has an FBI investigation placed against him and Matty is self-centered and likes to play the field. Oh, I get it now. James, you so clever!

What is most irksome is the sexism portrayed in this abashed comedy. Men are portrayed with cartoonesque extremes, whereas women are portrayed as career-driven, independent, loving and intelligent – save for Annie and Al whose respective characterizations are estrogen-driven manic and pathetically sincere hap.

George’s arc isn’t an arc, but rather an alarming alternation between blissfully self-made ignorant and miserable alcoholic. He runs away from problems and slams his head against things out of frustration. D’oh.

Lisa is trying to find her way in the world after being cut from her legacy softball team by a male coach who won’t listen to the intellectual reasoning of his female staff. This isn’t a particularly poor storyline, but the hodgepodge of quirks that define her – the stern incredulity, the dishonest bewilderment, the inability to self-stimulate – make her and, as a product, the film itself insufferable. If Reese’s performance were a thing, it would be anything from Ikea. Watch her performance before you mock my laziness/ineptitude/lack of wit shown in my insult.

Oh, and Matty is incapable of forming a coherent thought apart from “Sexy time”. He’s occasionally charming in his abhorrent ways – making Owen Wilson’s performance the sole redeeming factor of the film. These words should never exist.

In the end, Lisa picks the sensitive guy over the insensitive one. The guy headed for a terrible emotional recess because he will never again see his father outside of a prison; the guy whose career will certainly take an unbridling hit with all of the controversy surrounding it; the guy whose personality she knows nothing of divorced from extreme circumstance; the guy who will (most likely) be a financial burden to her in her most trying financial time; the guy who offers her a myriad of problems that the other would not.

But who cares? They love each other… I guess. I don’t know why but they do. That’s the main problem with How Do You Know – it doesn’t answer the first goddamn question it pretentiously asks its audience through its title. Unless the answer is “If they’re a good microwave cooker and are indolent in discussing their life, then you do” there is none.

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