Saturday, January 9, 2016

How Do You Know

How Do You Know; drama / comedy, USA, 2010; D: James L. Brooks, S: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson, Kathryn Hahn, Dean Norris, Mark Linn-Baker, Tony Shalhoub

After she was removed from her softball team, ex-player Lisa does not know what she should do with her life anymore. She goes on a date with executive George Madison, an acquaintance of her friend, but the man is later found in the middle of a stock fraud scandal, and is investigated by the authorities. Lisa starts a relationship with famed baseball player Matty, but he is a famous for being a womanizer. When George finds out that his father, Charles, may be responsible for the mess in the company, and subject to an indictment, he decides to find out if Lisa loves him - if she does not, he will plead guilty and go to jail. Lisa chooses him over Matty.

The 6th and final film directed by James L. Brooks has been met with a lukewarm reception, but it is a matter of another wonderful, unassuming little movie that is terribly underrated. With Brooks, everything is clear: his movies are either great or weak, there is no middle ground, and luckily, except for "Spanglish" and "I'll Do Anything", all other of his movies, including this one, articulated what the author wanted to say and follow his warm view on life and humanity. More than being a director, Brooks is first and foremost a writer - he knows how to assemble wonderful characters which feel alive, and their personalities actually lead the storyline. But more than being a writer as well, Brooks is primary a humanist who gives great observations about life and emotions. Just as with his "Terms of Endearment" or "As Good as it Gets", "How Do You Know" also has no real story, but is an example of a melancholic 'slice-of-life' with humor. There is a lovely little moment where Lisa goes on a date with George and enters a restaurant. She asks the waiter and he points out to a desperate man holding his head in his hands, standing alone at a table, and asks: "Is that him?" Lisa replies: "You know, I bet that is him. That is the kind of day I am having".

Another charming moment arrives when Lisa, a wreck after a difficult day, arrives to her apartment and her emotionally charged friend asks her what she needs. Lisa simply honestly replies: "Insensitivity". The film could have been more emotional, more intense and better written, and there seems to be a lack of chemistry and interaction between the actors (for instance, even though this was his final film performance, Jack Nicholson's character never interacts with Lisa or Matty, and is underused), which are drawbacks. Its title is weak, but movies are more than just their titles, anyway. The main theme is clear though: it is implied that Lisa became too old for her softball team, and thus has to decide which path in her future she should take - either Matty (sport, denial of age) or George (family, settling down). Brooks inserted some precious examples of wisdom, which are also a bonus: the highlight is a fantastic joke in the psychiatrist office, where Lisa wants to cut the whole procedure short and simply asks: "Is there one general thing that you've found over the years to be generally true in a general way that would help anyone in any situation?" The psychiatrist replies with: "I would say figure out what you want and learn how to ask for it." Though the ending is a little vague, the movie has a lot of such wonderful lines, which are easily overlooked, but just get better and better with subsequent viewing.


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