A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
- In theaters: December 17, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: March 22, 2011
- Cast: Jack Nicholson, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon
- Director: James L. Brooks
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Romance
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sexual content and some strong language
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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