Normally I’m not a stickler for punctuation. I’ve been known to drop a comma or two and throw in an inappropriate semi-colon here and there, but the lack of a question mark at the end of the title “How Do You Know” really bugs me. Does director James L. Brooks not have Spelling and Grammar check on his computer? Was star Reese Witherspoon sick the day they taught question mark use in school? What could possibly be the excuse for such an egregious and flagrant abuse of the English language?
In the film Witherspoon is a aging pro athlete at the end of her career. For twelve years she was the star of the USA Woman’s Softball Team, but when she gets cut she finds herself adrift in life. Caught in a love triangle between two men—Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson—who love her for completely different reasons, she must choose one of them but first has to learn how to know when she’s in love.
Even though I was in a bad mood because of all this question mark business, “How Do You Know” still managed to mostly win me over not because it is great, because it isn’t—it rises to the level of good, but not much further than that—but because of its appealing cast.
Witherspoon has been absent from the big screen for two years—her voice work in “Monsters vs. Aliens” doesn’t count—and in that time many have tried and failed to find the rom com sparkle she so effortlessly brings to this movie.
Rudd, as the slightly awkward suitor being investigated for fraud, brings the funny and the mushy and Owen Wilson’s immature pro-ball player is a very funny throwback to his “Zoolander” days.
A big surprise is Kathryn Hahn, as Rudd’s empathic assistant. Best known for roles on television in shows like “Crossing Jordan” and “Hung,” she’s a live wire who brings much to the movie, including its most moving scene. A bigger surprise is Jack Nicholson as Rudd’s devious father. He’s worked with Brooks before, earning two Academy Awards in the process, but here he’s wasted in a role that gives him little to do. For the first time in years Nicholson barely registers on screen.
“How Do You Know” suffers from a weird rhythm, unnecessary minutes in the third act and a major unresolved plot point but is rescued by the enthusiasm of its cast.