"Two Losers Do Not a Winner Make"
From the very opening scene where a chubby kid keeps missing the ball on the batting tee only to be upstaged by his smaller female teammate who hits it perfectly, HOW DO YOU KNOW tries too hard to be cute and succeeds only in part.
Fast forward around 20 years, and we find Lisa Jorgenson (Reese Witherspoon) who is anxiously waiting to find out whether she will make her team one more season. Unknown to her, the decision to cut her has already been made, and at that borderline age for an athlete, she is now facing a major turning point in her life.
On the other side of town, George, played by Paul Rudd, a young straight arrow business executive, has just found out that federal prosecutors are investigating him for financial violations and may be on the verge of slapping him with an indictment. George’s father, Charles (Jack Nicholson), runs the company where George works, but when George comes to his father for assistance, Charles dances all around the situation. After promising he will do all he can to help, Charles leaves George all alone to fend for himself.
On the same side of town, in fact in the same building that Charles lives, Matty (Owen Wilson), a major league baseball star, is more into himself than anything or anybody else on earth. Lisa and Matty are friends, and occasional lovers, but not more than that because Lisa is just one more flame in Matty’s long list of lady friends. In fact, he dates so many sleep-in friends on a regular basis that he keeps a drawer full of unused toothbrushes in his bathroom, and a closet full of cute outfits he hands out to them after a night of playful passion.
Perhaps due to the Matty-like lifestyle of so many major league stars, Lisa had asked one of her teammates to introduce her to someone who is not in sports. Just as she is about to go through the biggest life changing event in her life, she gets a call from George.
Eventually Lisa loses her job. At about the same time, George finds out he will be indicted, and his girlfriend dumps him for his troubles to boot.
Seeking to turn a new leaf, Lisa returns George’s call, and the two arrange to meet on the worst day of their lives. Comically, the meeting turns out to be cathartic because in their misery they are able to find strength, hope and an optimistic outlook for the future. Their biggest battles are yet ahead, however.
Matty is beginning to consider Lisa more seriously than the other women he is dating. He invites her to live with him, a major decision for him, and one threatening his very nature of unbridled narcissistic self-adoration. George, now strengthened by Lisa’s friendship, and hopefully more, finds the strength to confront his father and seek the truth that may also possibly explain why he is in all these legal troubles.
Who is going to win Lisa? Will it be Matty, or George, or maybe neither? Is George going to be tried and perhaps go to jail. Finally, what critical secrets does George’s blustery father Charles hold that may help or hurt George’s troubles with the law?
HOW DO YOU KNOW is definitely cute, and it would probably also work very well as a Broadway play because it unfolds from an interesting story with great potential. On the screen, however, it dangerously stretches the bounds of credibility, and that can be a poison pill for any movie. True enough, its characters are loveable but flawed, facing circumstances beyond their control, but finding within themselves the grit and humanity to survive and move forward.
Reese Witherspoon is as good as she is beautiful in her role as Lisa, the female anti-hero who stares at failure straight in the face and powers her way right through it with optimistic determination. Paul Rudd as the innocent and upright business executive who taps into Witherspoon’s strength to keep afloat is so cute and sensitive that he may be an instant hit with most females in the audience. Since everyone has to be cute and loveable, Owen Wilson, as the egoistical millionaire ballplayer, is shown to have a soft heart despite his womanizing ways. Jack Nicholson, who has more skeletons in his closet than some of our better-known politicians, is given some juicy scenes that, of course, are intended to show he really cares. The rest of the cast is fine, with supporting actors Kathryn Hahn and Lenny Venito especially notable for their respective contributions.
The real indictment here should probably be aimed straight at director James L. Brooks of TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and BROADCAST NEWS fame, among others, who has no excuse because he also wrote this one. Apparently, he let the actors do their own thing. Consequently, Nicholson overacts almost to the point of ridiculousness, Wilson keeps mugging for the camera, and the line “Cynicism is sanity” is followed in another part of the movie by the line “Optimism is Sanity.” It is not hard to conclude that some sloppy writing, followed by some sloppy direction, are the culprits here. Sometimes the minor touches can make the difference between a good movie, and a great one. Although this one has a great cast and an interesting story, its many misses in the smaller details ultimately weigh it down too much for greatness.
Regrettably, the movie is marred by the Romantic/humanist culture of its godless characters. As a result, alcohol consumption is accepted and drunkenness condoned under certain circumstances. Lisa is portrayed as a level headed, honest, valiant female, but she chooses to live with Matty without any serious commitment, or even love. Also, George decides to get drunk because he cannot cope with the problems he is facing. Furthermore, although a very successful ballplayer, Matty lives a life of complete debauchery, but this is considered normal. George’s father Charles clearly has ethical failings, but viewers are supposed to accept him as a loveable old man, and one of his employees is pregnant outside of marriage. Finally, in true Romantic fashion, the main characters make their ultimate decisions according to their feelings, rather than what God, religion or morality says. This unbiblical worldview overwhelms the movie’s moral elements favoring monogamy and integrity.
Although there is no explicit sex or nudity in HOW DO YOU KNOW, there are some references to promiscuity as well as lots of mostly light foul language and a scene of drunkenness. Ultimately, however, it’s the worldview that makes the movie unacceptable for media-wise viewers.
(RoRo, H, B, Acap, LLL, V, S, N, AA, MM) Strong Romantic worldview with humanist undercurrents where following your heart, instead of religion or moral standards, rules the decisions the lead characters make, absent any focus on God, plus light moral elements such as monogamy slightly extolled and one male protagonist tries to maintain his integrity during a corporate scandal and a light anti-capitalist element where a large corporation is in trouble for fraud, but movie doesn’t make much political mileage about that; 14 obscenities (including two or three “f” words and start of an “f” word), one “J” profanity and 18 light profanities; some comic violence such as drunk man falls and slips down stairs and laughs, chubby boy pushes girl to ground when she hits T-ball better than he and thrown softball hits woman in cheek; implied fornication, star Major League pitcher is promiscuous, talk about being promiscuity, couple moves in together, and subplot where woman is pregnant by her unemployed boyfriend who eventually proposes; upper male nudity; alcohol use and drunkenness; no smoking or drugs; and, businessman father of one male lead lies to son about past criminal behavior and has lied about their company’s income but wants son to take the three-year rap so father can avoid 25 years to life, son bases his decision whether to help his father on whether the girl of his dreams will say yes, coach of US women’s softball team won’t personally tell older player he has cut her but lets her find out online, other lying, and pride.
HOW DO YOU KNOW is a romantic comedy. Lisa is about to be cut from the national softball team. This means that, at the age of 31, she may be out of the game as an athlete for good. On the other side of town, George finds out he is being investigated by federal authorities, and may be indicted, for corporate crimes he didn’t even know he committed. Matty, a promiscuous professional baseball player, is Lisa’s sometimes boyfriend. Then, George meets Lisa in a twist of fate, and a romantic triangle soon develops.
HOW DO YOU KNOW relies too much on cuteness for its dialogue and presentation, so the story and characters suffer. The movie is also marred by the Romantic, humanist culture in which the characters operate. As a result, drunkenness is condoned under certain circumstances. Lisa is portrayed as a levelheaded, honest, valiant female, but she chooses to live with Matty without any serious commitment. Also, George decides to get drunk because he cannot cope with his problems right away. Finally, the lead characters make big decisions based on their emotions rather than God, religion or morality.