Monday, June 17, 2024

Reese Witherspoon: New Film Has Eerie Bernie Madoff Connections


Is it a coincidence or did James L. Brooks take so long to finish “How Do You Know” that he managed to work in some connections to Bernie Madoff and his family.

This week, Mark Madoff committed suicide ostensibly because of his father’s horrifying financial crimes.

Now, on Friday, Sony/Columbia will at last open James L. Brooks’s woeful “How Do You Know” starring Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson. Nicholson plays a business titan who’s looted his big Wall Street company. Paul Rudd plays his son who will seemingly take the fall and go to jail for the dad.

The very odd pas de deux–they are miscast as father and son–has strange echoes of Bernie and Mark Madoff. Luckily, Rudd’s character–emotionally detached–does not take his own life. Instead, he sentences himself to a life sentence with Reese’s character.

Jim Brooks has so many successes and brilliant career moments, and only a couple of missteps. I guess he was due. “How Do You Know?” will be remembered as his “Waterworld.” With a minimum $120 million price tag, this unromantic, unfunny film is surely the other big bomb of the season after “The Tourist.”

In the set up, Reese has a casual sex relationship with Wilson, but is supposed to be on track toward a romance with Rudd. But Rudd always feels like odd man out as it’s played. Reese and Owen have good chemistry, even if her character–a women’s professional softball star–is so underbaked as to feel uncooked. Witherspoon looks bewildered through the whole film, and even angry–for some reason-at Rudd.

It’s hard to make Rudd charmless in a film, but somehow it’s been done here. He has chemistry with no one, clicks on zero levels. His best scenes are with the woman who plays his pregnant assistant–terrific actress Kathryn Hahn. But even Hahn seems clueless about what to do here.

For an analogy to another current film: Rudd is Mark Zuckerberg, and everyone else is from the Winklevoss family.

The characters are so disconnected from each other and from the audience that the movie feels like it’s spoken in a foreign language. Nicholson is a adrift except in one scene, which lasts a nanosecond, of a possible incredible plot twist in a hospital room. If that twist had gone through, the whole movie might have changed. But then hope is snuffed out as we realize it’s for naught. Oh well.

Brooks is great, and hopefully he’ll adapt a novel like “Terms of Endearment” again and make a stunning comeback.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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