How Do You Know
“How Do You Know” is the typical chick flick/rom-com, except that
the characters don’t develop. They
just stay who they are at the beginning.
This makes it feel like we have little or no movement in this film from
start to finish. But the actors
are so good at playing who they are that we want to root for them, anyway.
In fact, all the actors are so strong that their character names
don’t really matter, so we’ll just use their actor names.
Reese Witherspoon is the softball player who just got too old.
So she’s summarily cut from the
national team. Her coach and her
teammates all want to show up to hold a pity party for her, but she’s not
much interested in that. She’d
rather go visit her baseball-playing friend-with-benefits, Owen Wilson, for a
little casual sex without bothering to really relate to each other
meaningfully. But even that
feels, well, pretty meaningless, so she finally accepts her insistent
friend’s offer to set her up on a blind date, who happens to be Paul Rudd.
But it appears that his world has just fallen apart, also.
It seems he’s been working for his father, Jack Nicholson, as the
figurehead for an international corporation, and his crooked father set him up
as the fall guy in case they got caught, and Rudd was so oblivious he wasn’t
even aware he was being set up until the feds came in, and suddenly nobody in
the company can talk to him.
Well, nobody, that is, except for his former assistant, Kathryn Hahn,
who’s very loyal, very pregnant, and very conflicted.
Of course, that makes her fit in very nicely with everyone else in this
movie, who all spend all their screen time very conflicted.
Owen Wilson can’t decide if he’s really ready to give up his
girl-in-every-road-game-city lifestyle, and freely admits his utter
shallowness of emotional complexity.
Reese Witherspoon enjoyed precisely that kind of a relationship when
she was a busy professional athlete herself, but now that she isn’t any
more, and is coming to grips with that, she’s also wondering if she would
really be capable of something more. Except
every time she tries to explain herself, the words get in the way.
It’s no accident that oftentimes things work out better for her when
she doesn’t talk about her feelings. She
even makes an appointment with a psychiatrist, once, and literally runs out of
his office before she can even begin explaining herself, but she does ask him,
from the hallway, what he’s learned, in general, that might be helpful to
anyone, in general, and he replies, “Figure out what you want.
Then learn how to ask for it.” She
thinks about that for two beats, and then says, “That’s hard.”
Well, apparently it is, at least for everyone in this odd little
Paul Rudd is conflicted because he hates his father for getting him
into this mess, but he loves him, anyway, because, well, his mother died and
he’s all he’s got left. Paul
can’t figure out how to talk to Reese, but he wants very much to listen to
her, and she’s not all that enamored with someone who just stares at her,
doe-eyed (she even calls him “Bambi”), listening to her intently, yes, but
not really offering any connection in return.
She already has that with her vacuous ballplayer boyfriend.
Even when he is home, well, he’s not all there.
Even Nicholson is conflicted (and he memorably plays that), by
selfishly wanting to preserve his own hide (he’s already on probation, and
if he gets caught this time they’ll salt him away for good), and setting up
his son to take his fall for him. OK,
everybody sufficiently paralyzed into inertia here?
Yep. Which is why we have
a hard time cheering when the can’t-make-up-my-mind Witherspoon actually
seems to make a decision. We’re
still not sure we trust it. And
if that’s how they want to leave us feeling about feelings, well, they
Dr. Ronald P Salfen, Pastor, Grace