When dropped from the USA softball team, Lisa (Witherspoon) finds her life suddenly without purpose. With an uncertain future, and feeling the sting of rejection, she becomes - against her will - caught in a love triangle with baseball-player beau Matty (
It should be cause for celebration that James L. Brooks, now 70, has made another of his infrequent forays into features, pitching his pleasantly askew worldview, gently mannered tone and a cast of characteristically mild eccentrics into the rom-com ring, one lately dominated by potty-mouthed upstarts who, trawling the Judd Apatow/Todd Phillips backwash, think talking dirty is a substitute for funny. On this evidence, however, those celebrations may be somewhat muted.
How Do You Know cost a whopping (for a rom-com) $120 million - a reputed $50 mill went on the director and four stars - and made $7.6 million in its opening weekend, one of the biggest flops in recent memory. Whether it was the vague, hard-to-remember title or bad trailers or young crowds not getting Brooks' grown-up approach, people just stayed away. And what they stayed away from is more Spanglish than Broadcast News.
Reese Witherspoon's Lucy is the sparkplug cornerstone of the US women's softball team, dating hot-shot baseball star Matty (Owen Wilson) and about to lead her adoring teammates to glory at the Olympics. Disaster strikes when she is unexpectedly cut from the squad and, without her athletic career to focus on, she begins to take stock of her life. Her commitment to Matty is shaken when she realises he has the emotional maturity of a puppy. And things get complicated when crashing into her life comes George (Paul Rudd), a faintly useless corporate exec whose world has also gone tits up thanks to a federal investigation for fraud. What¹s a girl to do?
That, of course, is the meat of the movie. And, sad to say, it does not provide nearly enough sustenance. Despite spirited performances from the leads - particularly Witherspoon, who is breathtakingly adorable throughout - it remains, for the most part, infuriatingly out of reach. Too often Brooks' dialogue, which could never be accused of excessive realism, comes off as stilted, and the rhythms are uncomfortably erratic. It¹s like late-career Woody Allen with a script by Mamet.
Wilson is fun as a narcissistic himbo, but he's such a tool you don¹t believe for a moment Lisa would give him anything more than a tumble, even in a crisis. Likewise Rudd, whose essential appeal is challenged by episodes of dithering ninniness that are more irritating than cute.
With competition from Nicholson (as Rudd's dad), it's Witherspoon who saves the day, delivering a performance so sweet, prickly and real you want desperately to love the movie as much as you love her.
Not Brooks' best, but it has its moments. And if Rudd and Wilson at times struggle, Witherspoon is a joy.