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 U.S. 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 awkward-humor movie.
            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 succeeded. 
 
Dr. Ronald P Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas