How do you know when you’re in the midst of a bad movie? When you’re watching How Do You Know. How do you know when a rounded cast is completely wasted? When you’re watching How Do You Know. How do you know the ending of this complex love triangle only 20-minutes into the movie?
Well, you get the point.
This one comes from the mind of James L. Brooks, only his sixth directorial feature, and probably the worst thing he’s ever done. This is a plodding, sluggish, and disjointed romantic comedy, and the word comedy is used loosely. Reese Witherspoon is a woman trapped between two men, Owen Wilson as the guy no one can figure out why he’s even in the picture besides a lucrative pro sports contrast, and Paul Rudd, the quirky guy in a tough legal spot.
How Do You Know wants to focus on them equally, killing individual storylines for the sake of the other. It’s easy to forget there are two guys here at times, the movie playing out like some cheap season finale episode of the “Bachelorette” as Witherspoon rebounds between them like a pinball. There’s this subplot about her position on the national woman’s softball team that serves as means to drive her into these guy’s arms, and beyond that, it’s a meaningless character trait.
Worse, these are simply not interesting people, Wilson’s character obsessed with himself, and Rudd simply trying to avoid his trouble. An attempt to heighten the latter with Rudd’s on-screen father played by Jack Nicholson is the closest this one comes to legitimizing itself, and the resolution there is far too easy. The same can be said for the film as a whole.
The film deserves an ounce of credit for not ending with “the run,” where the guy or girl has to make that dreadfully cliched romp to find them after realizing, “he/she is the one!” Well, at least it’s only to a bus stop downstairs from an apartment, so it’s not so much a run as a metaphor for this one’s pacing, a slow elevator ride.
Sony’s AVC encode for this one mostly stays out of the way, “most of” because it does intrude from time to time. Mosquito noise is a bit too frequent, the codec seemingly struggling when keeping the minimal grain structure separated from objects, or Paul Rudd’s shoulder. Generally, the grain plays nice, which at times is questionable given the rather mundane, flat, even fuzzy appearance. The only difference is the obviously digital opening where it appears overly processed.
Much of the film seems shot in a haze, windows aggressively blooming as if this were some fairy tale. Contrast can run hot, or simply be mediocre. There is little in the way of sharpness or precision definition, the finest of detail held back for the extreme close-ups. It performs there too, producing some outstanding high fidelity facial detail. Then, it completely collapses as the camera pans back, a nighttime street view at 1:40:12 miserable in its ability to present a natural, clean image. Trees on the sides of the road show how pitiful this one can look at times.
How Do You You Know has been color corrected for a warm, almost inviting palette, although it wreaks havoc on the flesh tones. People almost look radioactive, given this strange, translucent glow to their skin to go along with the overbearing barrage of oranges. Other colors are manageable, if kept in check on the warm side of things. Primaries remain bold, especially the red dress worn by Witherspoon early on in the movie, that one almost to the point of being a fire hazard.
Black levels are fine, certainly better than adequate, while the whole thing just seems to struggle with depth. This one never leaps off the screen, the lack of real clarity a bummer in terms of the presentation. The hot contrast can rush in and steal some of the image’s quality too.
Dialogue here has a firmness too it, a real fine, forceful quality that just screams modern audio design. It’s not something that leaps out at you, and is rather general, but it’s pleasing to the discerning audiophile.
The rest of the sound design is either generic or even missing some standard elements, street level ambiance rather lethargic. A party at 40:25 comes alive slightly, and you’ll catch some cars panning through the stereos from time to time. The score, surprisingly coming from Hans Zimmer, has a nice weight to it and powerful surround presence.
James Brooks joins cinematographer Janusz Kamiński for a commentary track, and Brooks continues his chat over many of the special features. There is a selection of 10 scenes where Brooks is joined by Owen Wilson for commentary work, and Brooks again goes after 16 deleted scenes optionally (including an alternate ending). A brief two-minute blooper reel is followed by a studio standard behind-the-scenes piece labeled Extra Innings. There’s a fine conversation with Hans Zimmer and Brooks for 26-minutes, and Brooks comes back yet again for The George, a mere drink recipe that apparently required his input. The script is here too, plus BD-Live access.