Friday, January 7, 2011

Opening Scenes

By Chip Schrader
Movie Review Editor
“How Do You Know” opens with a sequence of scenes where a man in a finely tailored suit “George” (Paul Rudd) calls a softball uniform clad “Lisa” (Reese Witherspoon) for a blind date after getting her number from a mutual friend. This call has the poor timing of catching Lisa at softball practice while he is in the midst of another day’s work in a high level corporate office. Lisa is taken aback by this phone call from out of the blue and prepares to practice for the big tryout, while the viewer knows this phone call is only the beginning.
Paul Rudd’s performance as George, a man who ends up feeling foolish throughout the film, is charming and believable, just as Rudd’s fans might expect. His pursuit of Lisa comes as his previous relationship, where he never called the shots, ended and his job landed him in a criminal investigation. His father is played by the volatile and comic Jack Nicholson, a man who played high stakes corporate games his whole life, but always found his priority in his son.
Witherspoon and Owen Wilson, as “Matty,” have great chemistry that pulls together an otherwise well-worn and predictable relationship where George comes into the triangle. While Matty seems to have all the wrong moves and manages to dupe Lisa into accepting his philandering, he manages all the right words to keep her in his life. A particularly telling scene is after a potential one night stand, Matty offers Lisa a change of clothes from a closet loaded with small and extra-small clothes he keeps on hand for all of his conquests. After initially being revolted that he keeps a closet of women’s clothes for one night stands, Matty charms Lisa into seeing him again.
To George’s dismay, he keeps just missing that perfect opportunity with Lisa unless he decides to make the opportunities himself, and manages to always meet Lisa in his worst moments, a la “When Harry Met Sally.” As the story goes along, these characters seem to miss each other at that magical moment as Matty manages to hold on to Lisa.
The story goes into predictable outcomes, but there is some dancing in between major points where the story seems fresh and doesn’t go in a straight line. The story of the investigation of a crime that George knows nothing about and is innocent of, makes the movie move along at a leisurely, but pleasant pace.
“How Do You Know” is not a cinematic masterpiece, nor a work of genius, but it works. All of the characters are not terribly new, but some of the scenes turn the romantic comedy conventions around. One example is when Lisa calls George from outside his window pretending she isn’t there, but hoping he is home. While this Romeo and Juliet set up is commonplace, it is seldom the woman who is the more assertive seeker, particularly when she is spoken for.
Rudd plays his strength as the sensitive guy who always winds up with his true love’s friend, and he continues his niche as the innocent and socially awkward lead that started with “I Love You Man.” Wilson also treads common terrain as his “Wedding Crashers” fans might recognise, his charming smile is used to its fullest and spinning his romantic ineptitude into boyishness. All in all, this movie offers very little that is new, but it is a breath of fresh air with its lighthearted storyline and satisfying conclusion. One of the better romantic comedies of the year. 3 out of 5.
Photo caption: (Courtesy movie poster image of “How Do You Know”)