How Do You Know

Director: James L. Brooks
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson
Runtime: 116 mins
Rating: **

This film is showing at York’s Reel Cinema. Click here for more information

Romantic comedies have inevitably become something of a staple in modern cinema. For the most part, the average rom-com makes no attempt to subvert or even sidestep the chick-flick clichés it stumbles across, leaving an entire genre clogged with narcissistic whimsy and sickeningly sweet Hollywood schmaltz. How Do You Know does attempt to be something other than generic, and for that I give it credit. The only problem with trying to break away from the concrete conventions is that you have to get it spot on, and this film, unfortunately, fails.

How Do You Know comprises several very strong acting talents: the ever-dependable Paul Rudd, the cute but tough Reese Witherspoon, and the zany and unpredictable Owen Wilson, with an additional, outstanding supporting performance by Jack Nicholson. The basic premise revolves around a love triangle, and seemingly the question of Reese Witherspoon’s choice between the safety and compatibility of Paul Rudd and the wild excitement of Owen Wilson. The film’s meanderings fulfil all the necessary stereotypes with the benefit of actually funny one-liners. Then, out of the blue, a plot twist turns the film into a legal thriller in the blink of an eye.

From here, the pace of the film speeds up and a lot of the best dialogue appears, including some affecting philosophical and psychological advice from a criminally underused Tony Shaloub. Just as the audience is getting used to the upheaval, the film decides to wrench itself back into a love story and ignores the majority of the important questions the law section raises, with its ending having a strong shot at winning the award for Most Unanswered Questions Ever.

One of the characters is placed in a moral predicament, and the decision they take – which literally had one of the audience members near me shouting in disbelief – seems to be dictated by the film’s preferred genre rather than by believable moral logic. The questions that remain unresolved subsequently leave a confusing mess far from the quality of the impressive opening. If you’re going to aim big, make sure you get there.

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