Contrived and vacuous

2011-02-21 00:00

HOW do you know that you are with the right partner? This is the blunt question posed in the romantic drama How Do You Know. It’s a dilemma most of us have faced at one time or another. I believe that love is not merely the sum of things, but rather the resonance between things. And this is really where the strengths and weaknesses of this film lie.

As a concept the script is likely to be universally appealing, and both its cast and writer-director are well respected (James L. Brooks delivered both Terms of Endearment and As Good as it Gets to our screens).

As a package it’s pretty much close to a sure thing for the movie execs. And yet I felt betrayed. Most of the players, plying their trade in the romantic comedy genre, lead one to believe that this may have a strong comedic backbone. Wrong!

I found the timing completely off, even as the audience I was with desperately willed the film to be funny. There were four moments that I maybe smiled, two of them that the script worked really hard for. I fear that comedy was not the writer’s pure intent; rather it was a more cerebral fascination with the contradictions and resonances of realtionships. Think romantic drama.

This said, and I was willing to engage the film on the level of drama, it ends up being sadly vacuous, dishing up both stereotypes and a homage to Woody Allenesque existential angst. Whereas Allen finds himself going down the rabbit hole into some ingeniously funny situations, the angst in this film is merely a device to add gravitas to the mundane. It actually robs the film of any charm or chemistry and that for me is essential to Love 101.

The love triangle that supports the story is fairly basic. A recently fired softball player (Reese Witherspoon) finds herself the object of affection for two differing suitors.

One is a colour-by-numbers charm­ing, wealthy baseball player (Owen Wilson), and the other, a fallen- from-grace, anxiety-ridden, soon-to-be-poor-as-a-churchmouse, sensitive man (Paul Rudd). Who does she end up with? I don’t need to tell you. Jack Nicholson is introduced as a completely irrelevent MacGuffin who is supposedly a ticking bomb, but who is brushed aside in the film’s denouement.

The film tries to be different and the concept certainly offered possibilities, but the writer, in trying to get a new angle on love, has demystified it, and that is criminal.

**

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