A brave, odd duck of a romantic comedy from James L. Brooks, How Do You Know strays as far from a barrel of laughs as a writer-director formed by network television can get without losing his grip altogether. Reese Witherspoon stars, in fetchingly scanty frocks, as a pro-athlete newly cut from her team, who has to choose between her sweetly clueless baseball star squeeze (Owen Wilson) and George (Paul Rudd), a straight-arrow businessman upended by a federal investigation. The movie has its share of shameless shtick — Jack Nicholson is a mugging guilty pleasure as George's feckless dad — but its rhythms feel freshly loose, disjointed, and peppered with strategic silences or half-finished thoughts. The punch lines are few, there's not much mugging for the camera, and with Janusz Kaminski on board as cinematographer, How Do You Know actually looks like its set in a rainy but warmly inviting downtown Washington, D.C., rather than the inside of a sitcom set. Uncertain though its box office prospects may be, this strange little film deserves to be sent out to sea in a bottle so future generations can take measure of just how hair-raisingly indeterminate it was to live and love in early-21st-century America.
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