How Do You Know

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
How Do You Know Movie Poster Image
Complex romcom is sweet, if not a home run.
  • PG-13
  • 2010
  • 113 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 12 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 14 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie offers some reassuring messages about figuring your life out on your own schedule and the importance of knowing what you want and finding a way to get it. It also has a hopeful message about our ability to fashion the life we want with just "small adjustments."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Almost everyone is at least likable here (except for Jack Nicholson as a narcissistic father). Owen Wilson’s character is somewhat overconfident and clueless (as well as a bit of a ladies' man); nevertheless, he tries and often means well.


A couple is seen after they've been intimate; the woman is in lingerie, and the man’s chest is bare under the covers; they discuss the fact that they had sex and talk about how good (or not) it was. They sleep together another time, too (some sounds). Other cleavage/shirtless men shots. Some discussion of one character’s propensity for sleeping around. A man and a woman discuss how powerful their sexual chemistry is. A man's hand on a woman's breast. Talk of condom use. Passionate kissing.


Relatively infrequent use of words like "f--k," "s--t," "prick," "damn," "oh my God," "hell," and "crap."


Some logos are visible, including Adidas, Team USA, and Play-Doh, plus Cheerios and Life cereals.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man gets drunk after receiving some bad news. Some social drinking, sometimes to the point of drunkenness.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this sweet (if not amazing) romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson centers on characters in the grip of identity crises -- a topic that may be a little too thorny for young teens to enjoy or really identify with. Nevertheless, it has an appealing message about allowing yourself to be flawed and confused and being kind to yourself so that you can figure out a way out of your dilemmas. There’s a bit of swearing (including "s--t" and "f--k"), some characters drink to excess, and there are a few fairly sexy scenes (implied sex, some moans and groans, discussion of playing the field, cleavage, etc.). The movie was initially rated R but received a PG-13 on appeal.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byGabriel Mohler March 21, 2015

Incredibly stupid

Premarital sex is prominent even though there's only one, barely graphic sex scene. Not even clever. The father-son issue leaves you hanging.
Adult Written by915071 April 25, 2013
Teen, 13 years old Written bythe.only.teen.c... January 11, 2021


I was super excited to see this movie, considering its legendary cast, but it wasn't as good as I imagined it to be. The plot was drawn out, in my opinion,... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byAlice 79 August 10, 2020

Good cast goes to waste in poorly written movie

This movie follows Lisa, played by Reese Witherspoon, a softball player who was kicked off her team. She has a one night stand with Matty, a lacrosse player, wh... Continue reading

What's the story?

Professional athlete Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) is about to turn 31, and though she’s still a fine softball player, her coach cuts her from the national team because he thinks she can’t keep up. The self-help notes filled with uplifting messages that she sticks to the mirror aren’t helping, and a fling with a professional baseball player, Matty (Owen Wilson), isn’t quite sitting well, either. Into the fray jumps George (Paul Rudd), whose own life is falling to pieces, too. His father (Jack Nicholson), whom he works for, has been less-than-law-abiding in his business affairs, and now George may wind up in jail. Can they all find the way to the answers they need?

Is it any good?

This movie is fairly entertaining, if a little remote. Writer-director James L. Brooks, who’s responsible for such unforgettable films as Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News, has a way of spinning a spider web of charm and complexity in his romantic comedies. The ensuing entanglements are always appealing, and though the endings may be somewhat foreseeable, the journey is most of the point. Here he trains his talents on questions of exactitude: How do you know if you’re making the right choice in a partner, job, and, well, life?

Classic Brooks dilemmas these may be, but HOW DO YOU KNOW unfortunately isn’t his finest film. As much as we care about the characters -- all perfectly cast, it has to be said, especially Wilson -- we just don’t care so much about how they come up with the answers they're looking for. A plotline that echoes the Bernie Madoff scandal feels like it's trying too hard, and though it’s typical of a Brooks production to have a large ensemble, this one feels too crowded. There are many wonderful moments, especially between Witherspoon and Wilson, but in the end, we’re not compelled to invest in Lisa’s decisions -- or in anyone else’s, for that matter.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's messages. What is it saying about figuring out who you are and what you want? Does it explore these ideas in an unusual way? Teens: Can you relate to what the characters are going through?

  • How do you think being cut from the team affected Lisa? Why? Teens: Have you ever gone through anything similar?

  • What is the appeal of romantic comedies? Although they tend to follow the same predictable formula, they remain popular. Why do you think that is?

  • What messages do romantic comedies send about love and relationships? Are these messages healthy or realistic for teens, who are just starting to navigate their own romantic relationships?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance and comedy

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate