It’s been awhile since James L. Brooks graced the silver screen with his singular writing and directing techniques (six years, to be exact, since the infinitely better Spanglish came out). Sadly, that screen has been better off without his presence all these years. In many ways echoing the deceptive trailer for Love and Other Drugs, How Do You Know leaves out certain key details that might otherwise change one’s mind about the premise of the film, one of them being the fact that Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) is a professional softball player who, at 31, is considered far too elderly by her new coach to continue playing in the league.
Her teammates are noticeably saddened by this news being that they all look up to her as a role model (and why wouldn’t they? Reese Witherspoon imbues all of her characters with visible personal strength); the coach, however, is unmoved by their pleas for her to stay on another season. Once Lisa is given the news (not from the coach himself, but by checking the league’s website for the new lineup), she stifles her breakdown by staring resolutely at each of the motivational notes on her mirror. Luckily, at around this same time, Lisa has captured the heart of another major league baseball player, Matty (Owen Wilson).
Normally uninterested in going beyond a one-night stand relationship, Matty realizes, via the advice of his coach, that he is in love based on his sudden concern about wearing condoms when he’s with other women. On a whim, he asks her to move in with him. Perhaps, under normal circumstances—mainly still being on the softball team—she might say no, but since she has nothing else occupying her time, she figures why not use a man to do so. But the complications of Lisa’s life are nowhere near over. Just before being dismissed from the team, her friend, Riva, sets her up for a blind date with a company man named George Madison (Paul Rudd). George himself presents a slew of new obstacles in the plot, including the strong possibility of being indicted because of actions his father, Charles Madison (a disappointing role for Jack Nicholson), committed on behalf of the company. On their blind date, which Lisa good-naturedly decides to go on after George had called her the first time to tell her that he had a girlfriend (who ends up leaving him when she learns of his employment woes).
On the date, the two sit in almost total silence, but not the awkward kind, so much as the “Holy shit, this person is amazing and I’m falling in love” kind. Of course, this sentiment is more on George’s end than it is on Lisa’s. From this point, the plot grinds to a bigger halt than the horses in Cinderella who turn back into mice at midnight. It’s basically another hour of Lisa deciding who she wants to be with, hence the oh so subtle title, How Do You Know (with its infuriating absence of a question mark). The only noteworthy aspect of the film is the chemistry between Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon, a rapport they also cultivated in 1999’s Overnight Delivery (which I would recommend before you ever bother seeing this Brooks monstrosity).
The only thing that can really be taken away from this movie is the answer to a question that doesn’t seem to be asked frequently enough before people in the movie business decide to commit a script to film: How do you know if a movie blows complete and total cock? Well, in this case, a large indicator was the appropriation of most of the film’s budget to star salaries, but the real answer—the universal problem with any “bad” movie—is when you, as a viewer, just don’t give a shit what happens to any of the characters and actually sort of wish they would just perform a mass suicide so the movie would end and you could finally empty your bladder.