My notes from a month or so ago listed Sam Worthington’s new movie The Debt as premiering on New Year’s Eve, but apparently they changed their minds, because there are no new films coming to Empire Theaters at all for December 31st. If I was a bad person, I’d have taken another week off today, but I’m not, so I didn’t (you’re welcome). I went to see a decent looking romantic comedy that came out a few weeks ago called How Do You Know My brother and his girlfriend hadn’t heard of it, so I’ll assume you haven’t either and give you the lowdown:
A female softball player gets cut from her team and hits it off with an honest businessman who’s just been indicted, leading her to wonder if what she’s got with her pro-ball playing boyfriend is the real thing.
It’s a pretty generic rom com setup, which is probably why it disappeared underneath the onslaught of big budget films and popular sequels like Tron Legacy and Little Fockers that have been dominating the theaters this month, but if you’re going to the movies this weekend, you could really do a whole lot worse than How Do You Know, and it’s not just because Gulliver’s Travels and Yogi Bear are still playing.
Romantic comedies are all so generically plotted that writer/director James L. Brooks pretty much had his writing work done for him by precedent, which means he only had two things to worry about: chemistry and comedy. Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd are paired up for this movie, playing two generically-named characters whose names I’ve already forgotten (Lisa and George, perhaps?) and though it seems like an unlikely combination, it does work. James L. Brooks can’t really take credit for it, because it had already worked in Overnight Delivery, but still, it works.
We might not be on the cover of every issue of Us Weekly, but we’re cute!
The second aspect – the comedy – is noteworthy in that some of the jokes are actually funny instead of just being painful puns. Even though Reese Witherspoon sometimes sounds a little too much like she’s reading her jokes off a cue card, Paul Rudd has done a lot of comedy before and it shows. He has great delivery and a dearth of crazy expressions and actions that kept me entertained.
There’s no way this did not hurt.
And then, of course, there’s Owen Wilson. I usually find him annoying, but he really was the perfect person to play Lisa’s boyfriend Matty – he’s a player but his utter cluelessness makes him hilarious rather than awful.
So, wait, you’re telling me I shouldn’t store trick kits in my apartment? Even if I know I’m going to need them??
And finally there’s Jack Nicholson, who plays George’s boss/father. He’s well… Jack Nicholson! For a guy who used to take only crazy scary person roles, he sure transitioned to comedy well… though he’s still kind of scary most of the time.
Seriously though, how would you argue with Jack Nicholson? I’d be afraid he’d pull my face off.
There are a few lines in the movie that are quite funny, but most of the funny comes from sight gags and double takes. In fact, there are a lot of places in the dialogue where their exchanges seem a little off-putting, like lines were jammed into scenes because they were independently funny not because they fit with the flow of the conversation. This is especially true when Lisa starts spouting her motivational sports sayings (it’s her ‘quirk’. They always have to have a quirk).
Hmm, which one should I shoehorn into conversation this time?
When the forced bits came along it kicked me out of the story, so I found that things went much more smoothly when the characters didn’t say anything at all and the actors were left to fill the silence with body language, which actually happened a lot. It’s like James Brooks knew he was a bad dialogue writer and he asked the actors to save him.
Paul Rudd’s funny faces to the rescue!!
My favorite parts of the movie, though, were the supporting characters. George’s pregnant secretary Annie (Kathryn Hahn) is hilarious – she keeps trying to look after him by making him stacks of casseroles and such because he has a horrible father, and her boyfriend Al (Lenny Venito), who has only one scene in the entire movie, pretty much steals it. I think there needs to be more Kathryn Hahn in the movies as a general rule.
But what if I just pantomime the things I’m not supposed to tell you, and you guess?
Even though I was (for the most part) enjoying myself, I kept wishing that James L. Brooks would back the hell off already. Either he was filming in a really tiny location or he has no concept of personal space, because for most of the conversational scenes he just cut back and forth between close ups of the actors. Usually I don’t even notice director-y things like camera placement, but I noticed this time and it was annoying. It’s like the actors couldn’t even manage to be in the same room together and this was the trick they devised to cover it up.
That’s right, Paul, just grin and bear it.
There’s also a baseball/career change element to the movie that gets dropped without ceremony about halfway through the film in favor of having Lisa figure out her love life. It’s predictable, because most rom com audiences don’t care whether the characters have a job or prospects or anything like that at the end of the movie as long as they have boyfriends, but every once in a while I like to see writers give us audiences some credit and actually resolve the problems they began the movie with. Alas, How Do You Know is not that film.
Token shot of baseball! ….and now let’s forget about it.
These are pretty minor complaints though, considering I laughed a lot and left the theater feeling happier that I was when I arrived, which, realistically, is all we’re really looking for in a romantic comedy anyway. If you hate sci-fi and you shudder at the thought of paying money to see a trainwreck like Yogi Bear, then I recommend you see How Do You Know. This is especially true if you are one of the four people in the entire world who actually saw Overnight Delivery.