So when this movie came out in 2010, it was soundly trashed by critics and audiences alike and bombed pretty heavily at the box office. Despite a love of the cast, I started watching How Do You Know with super low expectations but found that it didn’t suck as epically as most of the reviews I read prior to pushing play.
Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) finds herself at a crossroads in her life when, at 31 years old, she’s deemed to old to play for the national softball and is cut from the roster. She’s been dating Matty (Owen Wilson), an immature, but handsome professional baseball pitcher, but seeing as they’re not exactly committed to one another, agrees to a date with George Madison (Paul Rudd), a recently dumped corporate businessman being investigated for stock fraud. Lisa and George are both struggling with massive changes in their lives, but it’s clear George is pretty smitten with Lisa by the time they part ways. But while George is dealing with his emotionally manipulative father, Charles (Jack Nicholson), and the possibility of being indicted and going to jail, Lisa is quickly becoming more serious with Matty, who impulsively asks her to move in with him.
The movie is an extremely formulaic rom-com, that much is true. I was a bit excited to see a female athlete as the main protagonist, but sadly, the movie spends about five to ten minutes on Lisa’s actual career, and the rest of the movie focuses on the love triangle she finds herself in with Matty and George. On one hand, I can understand Lisa’s desire to distract herself from the fact that she’s no longer doing what she loves, and what she has devoted her entire life to, but on the other hand, I wish the movie hadn’t deviated so abruptly from the emotional fallout from losing her spot on a team she lived and breathed for.
Owen Wilson’s Matty is silly, juvenile and a philanderer, and he doesn’t exactly go to great lengths to hide any of these particular traits. It’s one thing for Lisa to spend time with him because he’s fun, handsome and ‘insensitive’ (which is something she claims she needs after being comforted by the entire softball team after the news that she was cut), but when she moves in with him and is routinely shown just how little Matty actually cares about her, it’s baffling to me that a strong, confident woman like Lisa would continue to give him chance after chance to grow up. Owen Wilson does a fine enough job as Matty, and it seems like he’s having fun with the role, but there’s nothing new about it. The character is one we’ve seen dozens of times, in other rom-coms.
As is generally the case, in my humble opinion, Paul Rudd is charming and funny enough to make even a bad movie an okay movie. I’m fairly sure he is the only one to share the screen with every character, and he adds plenty of awkward sweetness to the role of George that of course, you’re going to root for him to avoid jail and win the girl. Reese Witherspoon takes a somewhat flimsy role and adds plenty of depth and likability to Lisa. Reese has always had wonderful comedic timing, but Lisa doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to be funny. She is mostly at the mercy of Matty, the daffy caricature of a male athlete, and George, the affable every man who makes her laugh with his bumbling honesty.
Given the caliber of the cast, I was hoping for more. The script was disappointing, and the characters, while enjoyable enough, were characters I’ve seen before. How Do You Know presents nothing new to the rom-com genre, and the movie itself felt a bit clunky, like it couldn’t really figure out what kind of story it wanted to tell. Do I think the movie was as bad as the reviews claimed when it was released? Not really, no. But it wasn’t anything overly memorable either. It was fine… but that’s about it.