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Movie Review

It's not that Lisa doesn't have a lot going for her—she's got skill, independence, ambition, smarts and friends. It's just that all those glowing attributes have for years been tied up in her career as a softball player on the U.S. Olympic team. And now that she's 31 and been summarily cut from the squad, she's feeling completely lost.

Which is something George fully understands.

George is an upwardly mobile businessman who just got the news, out of the blue, that he's being charged with securities fraud … by the U.S. government. He's stunned. And that's before his company locks him out, his girlfriend boots him out and his lawyer's retainer fee wrings him out.

A romantic comedy match made in heaven, right? Well, not quite. Because this is a love triangle, not a straight line.

Matty, a fastball chucker for the Washington Nationals, is a self-absorbed ladies' man who has a drawer full of toothbrushes and a closet full of assorted morning-after clothes for his string of stay-over female guests. He's determined to give George a run for his money (what's left of it, anyway) when it comes to Lisa. And that's because Matty's starting to think that he's actually fallen in love for just about the first time in his life.

All three jump on a big city merry-go-round of oddball encounters, romantic miscalculations and love-struck gazes. Round and round they go, and where they stop … well, you know.

Positive Elements

In spite of its central characters' doubts and worries about love, the film makes it very clear that true love is indeed possible. And that when it does, it is a wonderful life-changing thing. Even the self-focused Matty starts to change his views on the possibility of lasting love.

Lisa fears that she just doesn't have "what it takes" to live up to everybody else's ideas about life—which include love, marriage and a family. But George slowly convinces her that finding the right combination of committed love and dedication can make all the difference. And that philosophy is supported in a number of ways:

George's secretary, Annie, is very single and very pregnant. But her parents surround her with love and attention. We know they're a bit disappointed, but they make a point of not pointing that out to her over and over again. Better yet, when the baby is born, the child's father comes in to admit his flaws. "I didn't want you weighed down by my limited prospects," he confesses to the new mother. Then he proclaims his undying love and asks for her hand. Which she readily gives.

Honesty is proclaimed as a virtue as well. George proves himself to be upright on that account. He refuses to lie. And when his secretary wants to give him inside—potentially illegal—information for his court case, he balks. "Not doing anything wrong is what's keeping me afloat," he tells her.

Later, when George finds out that his father is most likely the guilty party in the company scandal, he seriously considers pleading guilty to spare his dad jail time.

Lisa surrounds herself with motivational slogans. "Courage is mastery of fear, not absence of fear," reads one. Another proclaims, "The bad days make the good ones better." Lisa also says, "Don't judge anybody else until you check yourself out."

Spiritual Content

In the midst of all his troubles, George reports to his father that he thinks he may have met a girl, and his dad sarcastically retorts, "Oh good, there is a God."

Sexual Content

Matty asks his teammate how he knows that he's in love. The guy smirks, "When I wear a condom with the other girls." Indeed, How Do You Know takes a very casual attitude toward sex in general. Lisa and Matty are shown in bed afterwards. In one case, still panting, they talk about their just-finished encounter while partially covered up by a sheet. A guy at a party is seen groping a woman's breast. Matty pulls the guy's hand away (so that Lisa, who's standing nearby, won't get embarrassed), but the girl puts his hand right back.

We see Matty shirtless on a few occasions. Once he wears only a towel. One of Lisa's dresses is strapless, low-cut and extremely short. And in another scene she wears a cleavage-baring slip. The rest of her wardrobe is generally tight-fitting and low-cut. Most of her teammate friends dress in a similar fashion.

Song lyrics go on about showering together. A reference is made to threesomes.

Violent Content

Frustrated, George slams his head down (hard) on a table. Lisa gets hit in the mouth with a softball. (We see a bit of blood on her teeth.) A boy angrily pushes a girl down in the dirt.

Crude or Profane Language

Two and a half f-words and four or five s-words. A dozen or so other profanities include "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑tard" and "d‑‑n." God's and Jesus' names are misused close to 20 times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

George and Lisa drown their sorrows in beer and alcohol (separately and together). George starts out making himself a number of Bloody Marys—and then graduates to straight booze. Later we see Lisa swigging huge mouthfuls of Guinness. They both become seriously inebriated.

Bar patrons down all sorts of drinks. Partygoers drink beer and wine. Lisa reports that her dad always said, "Never drink to feel better. Only drink to feel even better."

Other Negative Elements

George's dad allows his son to be blamed for a crime he didn't commit. He states, "Cynicism is sanity."


When coming out of the press screening for How Do You Know, I was approached by a gentleman who spotted my notebook and pen and inquired, "How was it? Thumbs up?"

"Uh, mumble, mumble, mumble. Well. Ummm."

I spent the rest of the night chewing over just how easy it is for people to want a simple yea-or-nay assessment of everything nowadays. And just how hard giving that thumbs up or down can sometimes be.

If Joe Moviegoer and I had been pals grabbing a cup of coffee together, I would have jumped at the chance to replace a "simple" answer with a lengthier discussion of the romcom's traits. I certainly would've mention the talented cast, for example:

All of the movie's quirky characters—from the too-old-for-Olympic-softball female lead to the serial-womanizing, empty-headed major league pitcher to the Justice Dept.-indicted neurotic good guy—were played to a T. And subsequently they were all enjoyable to watch even when they were going through their not-so-likeable phases.

While Joe and I were, maybe, finishing a piece of pie or pushing around a few last cookie crumbs, we could've gotten into the flick's endearing side. Its subtle and almost teary moments that take you by the heart and make it plain that a sincere and committed loving relationship is a powerful force. A force that can transform even the worst of circumstances.

We're down to the dregs in our coffee cups now, and Joe and I, of course, have to swallow the less appealing side of the film: A script that's sometimes smart and funny, but often rambling and flabby. The profanity-laden dialogue—that somehow squeezes two and a half, maybe even three f-words in under the PG-13 wire. The pervasive and damaging worldview that takes it for granted that people will naturally jump in and out of a stranger's bed as casually as they might exchange a pleasant, "How ya doing?"

And if that half hour of amicable conversation had taken place, Joe and I would probably have ended up musing over how motion pictures these days can somehow feel mature, but sound puerile and crass at the very same time. Then we would've shook our heads, shaken hands, asked about the kids, complained about how the weather seems worse now that it did when we were younger, and gone our separate ways.

That exchange never happened. Instead, Joe walked away wondering why I couldn't just give him an easy answer to a simple question. And unless he reads this, he'll never really know how I felt. But at least now you know.

More coffee?

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Reese Witherspoon as Lisa; Paul Rudd as George; Owen Wilson as Matty; Jack Nicholson as Charles; Kathryn Hahn as Annie


James L. Brooks ( )


Columbia Pictures



Record Label



In Theaters

December 17, 2010

On Video

March 22, 2011

Year Published



Bob Hoose

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