James L. Brooks is a director I find to be extremely hit-or-miss (the only film of his that I have loved as of yet is Broadcast News) but usually I’ve always found in what I’ve seen of him, there’s always a single performance that keeps everything watchable (I for one was not a big fan of As Good as It Gets in spite of fantastic performances from Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt). How Do You Know is the very lowest I’ve come across from him and while not nearly as insufferably irritating as the advertising might have made it look, there’s little to nothing offered that could lift any form of life out of this from higher ground.
The premise alone might give a clue what sort of route the film is set to play upon and just the very execution is so basic and familiar, it makes for a dreadfully boring final result. The very pathway we have here is something we’ve seen in so many other different romantic comedies, and what’s probably the biggest offense committed is how there’s simply no attempt being made in order to separate itself from other films of the genre. It’s not dreadfully insulting like I would have expected but everything is played out in such a safe manner and there’s no reason provided by the film for the audiences to grow invested in any manner.
Every character who takes up most of the screen is a bland stereotype from other different romantic comedies. We have seen these sorts of people before, but what is it about these people that makes them any different from what else you’d come across inside of a romantic comedy that actually tries? Sure, these people have some sort of a quirk to them but that doesn’t add up to any form of development. They start off as bland one-dimensional figures and at the end of the film, they are still the same lifeless figures that we were introduced to.
Looking only at the cast, it’s especially saddening to see how much talent had been wasted in this scenario. Surprisingly, Reese Witherspoon isn’t particularly terrible but considering the limitations of the script, she’s not made any interesting. Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd don’t bring any form of life to the screen either, for they just stick to being the boring cutouts we would already have figured them out to be from the very beginning. The saddest part about this is that Jack Nicholson, who is undeniably the best part in the film, is underused beyond belief. It’s such a shame especially when he is at least attempting to breathe some life into such a dull project and then he is given only about 15 minutes on the screen.
It seems though as if the faults all come from the clumsiness of such a terrible script. Seeing what James L. Brooks is at the very least capable of especially when you watch some of his earlier works (again noting Broadcast News), it’s rather shocking he managed to sink this low. The dialogue isn’t particularly anything worth noting and the attempts at humour aren’t rather funny, but just plain awkward. Yet perhaps the worst offender is that it’s just way too long for such excruciatingly standard execution. Perhaps 90 or 100 minutes could be fine, but nearly two hours is just too much for the film’s own good.
From what I’ve heard, this is Jack Nicholson’s most recent film and for such an incredible actor I know he is, it would be extremely saddening if this indeed turns out to be his last film. How Do You Know is an absolutely terrible film, not in the manner it is to make its viewers mad, but simply in just how clumsily everything is unfolded and how standard all of it felt. James L. Brooks at least is a director and screenwriter who has some capabilities for making great material in spite of his filmography being a hit-or-miss affair, this shows none of that. Since I’d have imagined that joke is to be made in this review, “How do you know it’s that terrible?” Because I actually sat through every minute of it.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony.
Directed by James L. Brooks
Screenplay by James L. Brooks
Produced by Julie Ansell, James L. Brooks, Lawrence Mark, Paula Weinstein
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson
Release Year: 2010
Running Time: 116 minutes