I still like James L. Brooks movies. He lost most people after Spanglish so they probably won’t like How Do You Know either, but I appreciate a romantic comedy where people talk about what’s actually going on. To me that’s smart.
Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) is a star baseball player cut from the USA team. She moves in with Matty (Owen Wilson), a womanizing MLB player. George (Paul Rudd) is a businessman getting in trouble with the government (they explained all the details and it’s as convoluted as real business, so it’s probably accurate). His father Charles (Jack Nicholson), who put George in charge, tries to manage the scandal in his “Jack” kind of way.
Doesn’t sound like a whole lot, because it’s just a movie about people relating to each other. Lisa and George just meet each other at bad moments in their lives and that makes the time spent interesting. There’s no constructed encounter where polar opposites have to work together.
Lisa is definitely a woman written by a man. She’s so in touch with her feelings, she articulates exactly where she is in a given moment to make good decisions. She even tells herself to be honest with herself while making mistakes so at least she gets a takeaway from the experience. Brooks forgot to take away reason and accountability this time.
George and Lisa ordering drinks reveals each characters’ perspective. She doesn’t need the crutch and her frustration totally stops his neurosis. Just don’t indulge it. George still does indulge and keeps announcing he has a thought throughout the movie. Thankfully, this is a movie where empty words don’t work. He’s got to get to a real place.
Other than George, it feels like people are talking to try to communicate, not just to announce how they’re feeling. After sex with Matty, Lisa is actually evaluating where she stands with him. She asks him to be more specific, because he’s just being generally positive. When she discovers his stash of new toothbrushes and womens’ sweat suits in all sizes (sweet move, by the way), she realizes Matty is a player. However, he makes a good point. If he’d put out one and hid the rest, would that make him a great guy? (Still no. He shouldn’t expect women of any size to stay over. That’s the wrong kind of thoughtful.)
The dialogue is still heightened where everyone is just a bit more clever and articulate than we actually are. Lisa tells Matty, “You have all the signs of a handful.” It’s a lot of sports metaphors, but those work. Lisa’s Coach Sally (Molly Price) advises her, “You fight low self-esteem, don’t give it the wheel.” Dramatic, but good advice.
It’s still ironic and sarcastic too. One of Matty’s teammates says, “I think I’m in love when I wear a condom with the other girls.” George toasts “to people who make toasts” and reveals, “I was a bartender when I was working my way through bartending.” During a fight, Matty says, “I’m not going to ask where you’ve been, but I get points for that, right?” Well, Matty, if you don’t get points with Lisa, you still get points with me.