How Do You Know? (2010)

Written by  //  May 27, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  Comments Off on How Do You Know? (2010)

I was so prepared to be underwhelmed by this star studded romantic comedy from a big league director based on the numerous underwhelming reviews I’d heard beforehand that I didn’t quite give it a chance initially. I didn’t watch it on a weekend where I had nothing else to do and this was the only release I hadn’t seen then playing; I ignored it when my father got the DVD and watched it at home; I even cast it aside in favour of the guaranteed-to-be-underwhelming I Am Number Four on a translantic flight.

But then on my return trip, faced with the same set of movies, I finally decided to give it a chance. Like I said before, great cast, reliably good director – how bad could it be? Turns out, not too bad at all. In fact, good enough to prompt me to tell you this: sure us reviewer folk have opinions worth considering – whether it be Ebert/Roeper or Lekha/Danish, but when a movie has pedigree this good (and okay, in my case, has Paul Rudd flashing that wonderful smile)  it’s worth giving it a chance.

How Do You Know? does a simple enough thing that you’d think most movie makers should at least understand the basic mechanics of by now – it takes time to flesh out its characters. Their personality traits come out through often well constructed conversation – not dialogue, but real conversation! – as opposed to them making shrill declaratory statements about the same.  By the time the introductory act is over, you may not be in love with all them – but you’ve begun to figure them out, enjoy spending time in their presence, are invested enough to look forward to how their interactions will collide and bounce off against each other.

This is good, strong, character driven cinema masquerading as rom-com fluff.

The characters, if you will – somewhat at the centre (but not necessarily the heart of the movie) is Reese Witherspoon’s recently tossed baseball player Lisa; Paul Rudd’s also down-in-luck businessman George; Owen Wilson as a very much in the prime of his career player Matty; and Jack Nicholson playing George’s father. As the movie starts, Lisa’s path intersects with both George and Matty at about the same time – but those crucial few hours make the difference for her, with a chain of events leading to her moving in with the erstwhile cad that is Matty. George meanwhile can’t seem to catch a break – except when she’s around, and then too, his luck seems to run out abruptly. As for George’s father – he’s a grating scumbag. And here’s my only real problem with the movie: the way Jack Nicholson plays him doesn’t quite help matters. The fault is partly in the screenplay, with every appearance of the character bringing proceedings to a deathly standstill, but its also about Nicholson employing his bizarre facial tics that were much more at home when we were Redrum-ing our way to learning that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” – not so much in this otherwise breezy, effortlessly charming film.

It really is quite disarming – I didn’t realize how much I cared for the characters till the point when a very pregnant Katheryn Hahn in a minor supporting role has the husband of her newborn propose to her. So many sitcom-ish cliched ways this scenario could go, particularly when you consider the sequence also involves George and Lisa happening to be in the room at the same time. And yet, it is written, directed and acted in such a way that what starts off as intensely moving, takes an unexpected turn to hilarity, and dovetails into a scenario with the lead  characters finding greater depths of understanding and respect for each other.

It’s a delightful piece of film-making in an oddly delightful movie.

So. How do you know whether a movie is good?

I suppose in the end you have to see it for yourself. Though if you find both sides of Lekha/Danish in disenchantment with a piece of cinema, run far and run quick from it.

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