HOW DO YOU KNOW
I WANTED to like this film, I really did. It’s the work of James L Brooks, the Simpsons’ producer. It’s got talented stars in Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd, and it’s been praised for being an intelligent romcom. Well, it may be intelligent and it has the odd bit of cynical humour, but it is boring and progressively rotten, too.
Witherspoon is an emotionally-repressed softball champion, who tries to stay tough and goal-oriented even when her age means calling time on her pro career.
She’s looking for a guy and ends up falling for two. First she picks Owen Wilson’s jock because he’s so stupid they won’t have to talk about themselves.
Then she meet’s Paul Rudd’s businessman – one of the film’s only sources of humour – who happens to be in deep water with the Feds (it’s not his fault).
All he wants to do is talk. But on their first date Witherspoon instructs silence throughout their meal. There they sit, chomping, their troubles stifled but clear on their pained faces.
What ensues is a tiresome love triangle in which Wilson (playing his usual idiotic charmer) and Rudd slug it out for the girl’s heart. Witherspoon’s almost permanent look of pain and boredom eventually becomes a fitting reflection of our own.
IT’S hard to like Barney Panofsky, the wealthy, schlubby, altogether unremarkable TV exec whose failed marriages and unruly life over 35 years make up the focus of this film. But it’s also impossible not to be mesmerised by Paul Giamatti’s performance as irascible, alcoholic, selfish Barney, and the way he makes him seem so painfully human and, somehow, sympathetic.
We never really know what his beautiful wives see in him, particularly saintly Miriam, played by Rosamund Pike, who he meets on the day of his wedding to Minnie Driver’s Jewish princess with whom he immediately falls in love. But they settle down to a life together that ebbs, flows and falls apart, seen mostly in flashback. Barney’s a fool, but a romantic one, inevitably destined for unhappiness.
Intertwined with all this is the story of what happened to Barney’s best friend, and the suspicion – raised in a newly-published book – that Barney murdered him.
It’s a strange, rambling film that’s too long and resolves little, but Giamatti, Pike, and Dustin Hoffman are on terrific form as Barney’s dad, make it worth watching.