His and hers
DESPITE THE travesty of Spanglish and the messy compromise that was As Good as It Gets, James L Brooks deserves to be treated as a treasure for the ages. This is, after all, the man who brought us The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Simpsons, Broadcast News and – you know you blubbed – Terms of Endearment.
The director’s mighty status perhaps explains why he was allowed to stretch this humble but amiable comedy about 15 minutes past its natural length.
The under-punctuated How Do You Know (I suppose it could be statement rather than a question) comes across like a standard romantic comedy that desperately dreams of becoming a genrebusting dramedy. Indeed, the film hangs around a question that has always been central to romcom anthropology: when will the pretty girl ditch the jerk and hook up with the nice guy?
Reese Witherspoon plays the perky heroine. Recently dropped from the US national softball team, Lisa Jorgenson takes comfort in the arms of the sort of charming, terminally unfaithful rogue that only Owen Wilson can play.
Elsewhere in the city, George Madison (Paul Rudd) is having an even worse week. Indicted for some obscure business malpractice, he has been suspended from work and, bankrupted by looming legal fees, is forced to move into a grubby flat above a shop.
Though the scenario is very familiar, Brooks has some fun with a pleasingly unexpected structure. For much of the picture, George and Lisa remain little more than acquaintances. Following an unsuccessful blind date, they head back to their unconnected lives and, though George is somewhat smitten, the romance is mostly played out in the audience’s speculating brains.
Sad to relate, Jack Nicholson, as George’s unscrupulous dad, seems a little low on batteries and appears to have temporarily mislaid his comic timing. Witherspoon and Rudd are, however, on top form.
In an age where romantic comedies invariably tend towards a blend of Anistonology and wedding porn, it is genuinely stirring to encounter a film that focuses on the quieter intricacies of couple dynamics. This is about (ahem) as good as it gets these days. Opening today without an Irish press preview is (16 cert, gen release, 92 min). Jason Statham steps into Charles Bronson’s 1972 role in this action thriller about a veteran assassin who teaches his trade to a young novice (Ben Foster).
Meeting Mr Right: Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd in How Do You Know Directed by James L Brooks. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson, Dean Norris, Kathryn Hahn