Thursday 14 December 2017

Movies: How Do You Know ***

(12A, general release)

Paul Whitington

This cheerful romantic comedy from veteran director James L Brooks was panned by the critics when it opened in the States before Christmas, and did disastrous business at the box office. I'm not entirely sure why, however, because although it has problems in terms of both structure and length, it's considerably better than most of the clumsy romcoms Hollywood is churning out at the minute.

Reese Witherspoon stars as Lisa Jorgenson, a driven young woman who has devoted her life to sport. For some years she's been the star of the US softball team, but when she's cut from the squad unexpectedly her life goes into freefall.

When she goes for advice to a major league baseball star called Matty Reynolds (Owen Wilson), they end up beginning a romance. But while Matty is rather sweet in some respects, he's a compulsive womaniser for whom the concept of monogamy is destined to remain an impenetrable mystery.

Then, by chance, Lisa meets George Madison (Paul Rudd), a clumsy and self-effacing business executive who seems the polar opposite of Matty. Depressed, single and currently under investigation for insider trading, George on the surface has little to recommend him as a suitor. But he's utterly smitten by Lisa and she's strangely attracted to him. However, the odds seem stacked against them, and rich, handsome Matty just won't go away.

Brooks' script has moments of genuine comedy, and an appealingly eccentric take on relationships. But the guts of two hours is too long for even the best comedies, and in the end How Do You Know gets caught between the stories of its two principal characters and fails to do justice to either. There are good performances, though: from the dependable Witherspoon and comic everyman Rudd, and especially from Wilson, who's great fun as the endearingly insensitive Matty.

Jack Nicholson mainly phones it in as George's dad, but now and then reminds us what he's capable of.

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