How Do You Know Doesn’t [Know, That Is…]

Despite a fine performance by Reese Witherspoon, James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know is a pretty awful movie.

Witherspoon plays Lisa, a thirty-one year old member of the USA softball team. She eats, sleeps, dreams and breathes sports. When she is cut from the team, her life founders – at least until she finds herself being charmed by Major League star pitcher Matty [Owen Wilson]. To complicate matters, she gets a call from George [Paul Rudd] who calls only because one of her teammates suggested he call her for a date. He’s not actually asking for a date but, rather, because he didn’t want to not call in case her teammate had told her to expect his call.

George has his own problems – the company where he works, for his father [Jack Nicholson] is under IRS scrutiny for fraud and he could be indicted at any moment. He’s the last guy you’d expect to wind up with Lisa, so guess what…

Witherspoon is spectacular as Lisa. Every moment of her performance is true and we can relate to every emotional crisis she has. Sadly, her work is wasted by a screenplay that seems to be about a lot of things to the exclusion of any kind of coherence.

There’s a potentially fun sports movie about Lisa here, but she’s cut way too soon for that to be adequately developed. Then there’s a movie about romance between athletes that could have been very interesting. There’s even a potential dysfunctional father/son relationship movie here, but it gets no depth. Finally, there’s that old standby, the opposites attract movie.

Anyone of the four – or even combinations of any two of the four – could have been turned into something far more entertaining than what we get here. It feels like writer/director James L. Brooks saved up every good idea he’s had since his last film [2004’s underrated Spanglish] and then just tossed them, pell-mell, into a vitamix 5300 blender.

As director, he manages to keep things moving, but doesn’t hit the right emotional beats [mostly because he’s left most of the good ones out]. The result is Nicholson sleepwalking through a paycheck; Wilson being a charming but bland cad, and Rudd confusing mugging with soulfulness.

If not for Witherspoon, How Do You Know would be pretty much irredeemable.

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