There’s something so right about showing up at a 10:25 am matinee showing, in my sweatpants with my snot-covered sleeves—because I was too lazy to get up and search for the tissues. I was looking really gross is what I mean. Out and about in my pajamas, unshowered, hair frizzy, just to see the opening day of How Do You Know with Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, and Jack Nicholson.
Quickie synopsis from IMDB: Feeling a bit past her prime at 27, former athlete Lisa Jorgenson finds herself in the middle of a love triangle, as a corporate guy in crisis competes with Lisa’s current, baseball-playing beau.
I don’t know if it was because the theater was empty, or if it was just the on-screen chemistry, or if the characters themselves were supposed to be awkward, but some of the scenes, particularly between Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson, felt really off. As if they worked better in the trailer, out of context, than they did in the film. No way was this all the work of James L. Brooks.
Most of the scenes between Paul Rudd, the corporate guy in trouble, and Jack Nicholson, the screaming father who owns the company, felt empty, as if the adored men before us were simply actors reciting lines. I couldn’t be immersed in the Jack/Paul storyline because, perhaps, the story itself felt manufactured. It felt like Brooks was throwing obstacles into the formula, upping the stakes, but that’s all these scenes felt like, obstacles. It was as if that very storyline could have been replaced with a handful of others, swapped in and out interchangeably. The reason it didn’t matter what the story was is because I didn’t believe the relationship. I wasn’t convinced of the father son story between Jack and Paul. I didn’t hate Jack the way Annie (the wonderful Kathryn Hahn who played -again- the pregnant woman in HBO’s Hung) hated him, to the point where she almost strikes him. And I wanted to. I really wanted to hate Jack. But the film’s manipulation of our affections was too heavy-handed. Having an emotional pregnant woman nearly punch Jack, really? Do we all need to be hit over the head with it? I have no reason to hate him. And maybe that’s because Jack Nicholson brings too much history to his role. We expect him to be crass and abusive, so when he is, it’s no big shock. We’ve already learned to tolerate him that way. I wanted to hate him, but I wasn’t given the opportunity to care, really care, about his son George (Paul Rudd) before Jack got all abusive on his ass. I wish we could’ve hated Jack with a smaller gesture. Not a punch to the head by a sweet prego mama but in a smaller moment, when perhaps, he steals someone’s parking spot, or neglects to open a door or hold an elevator… or my personal favorite, when someone saves up all their money to buy him something special and he insults the gift. That’s an immediate hate- cliched, but locked and loaded. So, no, when it came to the father/son storyline, I simply didn’t care.
But there was a lot I did care about. There were a lot of good language moments, and moments where I found myself laughing out loud in such a genuine way, and you know it’s genuine because no one else is in the theater, so it can’t be conformity laughing. I loved the heart of it, the uniqueness of some of the scenes. In particular, an early moment when Reese Witherspoon’s character suffers from a setback, we don’t see her emotions until she’s brushing her teeth. It’s there, staring at her reflection that tears mingle with toothpaste. And we’re shown who she is, the type of character, by the self-help post-it notes affixed to her mirror, her mantras. I wanted those same details about Jack, to be shown why we should hate and understand him.
SLIGHT SPOILER: I loved the scene where George (Rudd) filmed and re-filmed the proposal to his friend. See, now that, that scene was original. I adored it. It was the best scene of the whole film.
The big thoughts of the picture: you want someone to love you the way you are. And not want to change you or make you love yourself in a different way. You should love the things you love about yourself, and find someone who interprets your bad shit as adorable shit.
Also, I love when people get gifts in movies because there’s so much expectation and story behind a gift.
I didn’t love the Owen Wilson character as the baseball player. And I didn’t love all the softball team stuff in general. I just didn’t care about any of them. They had these small parts that kept being roped in, but nothing happens with it, and the softball storyline never really pays off. You take the roll as the softball friend, because, come on, who’s going to turn down anything with a Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson, James L. Brooks film? I mean, come on. But, you kinda should’ve.
And why include the “almost going to therapy” scene where Reese’s character is told to know what you want and figure out how to ask for it. Love the advise, but why would it come from a therapist and not one of her softball friends? Why add this scene into the film?
Basically, I liked the film in a vacuum, between Reese and Rudd only. Paul Rudd as George says it best, about how we’re all one small adjustment away from our lives finally making sense and coming together. And that’s what Reese’s character needed to hear from him, so she could understand that despite her softball setback, things would fall into place for her, too.
I would see it again, but just for the Reese Rudd scenes. The rest, I know, I could do without.