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Josh Reviews How Do You Know

Before the start of James L. Brooks’ new film, How Do You Know, there was a trailer for a new Adam Sandler film.  Apparently, Sandler’s character likes to wear a wedding band, even though he’s not married, in order to score chicks.  Then he meets a girl he really likes, but when she finds his wedding band, he’s too embarrassed to admit what he’s been doing, so he pretends he is actually married, to his assistant (played by Jennifer Aniston).  But then Aniston mentions her kids in front of Sandler’s new girlfriend, so NOW he has to pretend that he’s married AND that Aniston’s kids are actually HIS kids.

This is exactly why I can’t stand most of what passes for mainstream studio comedies these days.  I simply have no patience for films in which we’re supposed to be laughing at characters behaving in the ways that no actual human being possibly would — doing outrageous things and spinning increasingly outlandish webs of deception.

What a refreshing change of pace, then, to watch a film like How Do You Know, in which the characters all actually behave like real people might, and in which the situations seem like actual real-life situations.  Sure, there’s some exaggeration for comedic effect, and sure, there are some coincidences involved in the plot (such as two main characters in the story happening to live in the same building), but with only one small exception (which I’ll get to in a minute), the comedy in How Do You Know is drawn from actual, recognizable human behavior and emotions.  Thank heavens for James L. Brooks!

Reese Witherspoon plays Lisa, an athletic, driven young woman who nevertheless, at the age of 31, finds herself past her prime in her sport and cut from the USA women’s softball team.  She’s recently started dating Matty, played by Owen Wilson, an affable though somewhat dim professional baseball player.  George, played by Paul Rudd, has suddenly found himself under indictment for suspected unethical stock transactions.  He’s pretty sure he’s innocent, though the cost of his defense will most certainly bankrupt him and if he loses the case he could wind up in prison.  He’s pretty sure that his father, played by Jack Nicholson, who is also the head of the company where he works, knows a bit more about the situation than he’s telling.  Even after a set-up dinner that goes pretty poorly, Lisa and George  seem to continue to find themselves drawn into each other’s orbit, as they both struggle to find a way to get through this low-point in their lives when the hopes they had and the plans they’d laid out for themselves are coming crashing down around … [continued]