Writer-director James L. Brooks (“As Good As It Gets,” “Broadcast News”) offers the best romantic comedy of the year, an accolade safe to offer a couple weeks before 2010 ends. Brooks creates unusually individualized adults with traits not shopped from screenwriting software for character development. This rewarding romantic comedy triangulates a ballplayer Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) suddenly dropped from her pro team at age 31; a second-generation CEO, George (Paul Rudd), just as unexpectedly indicted for fiscal wrongdoing done in his name; and Matty (Owen Wilson), a pro ballplayer with no career wrinkles or other cares beyond his bent-up nose. Lisa weighs her two prospects, but the outcome is not cliched. “How Do You Know” dispenses with the genre’s stock devices such as a commitment-versus-career dilemma, a sidekick with an erotic eccentricity, a misperceived deed, a looming deadline and a wedding. The in-jokes are handled smartly: viewings of “Kramer vs. Kramer” and this knowing line delivered in a maternity ward—”Just remember, there’s a lot of TV shows with single mom heroines.” Thankfully, Jack Nicholson, playing George’s father with no new tics, gets less screen time than the film’s poster and trailer imply. Brooks got far better from him in “As Good As It Gets.” The other key supporting character, George’s secretary played by Kathryn Hahn, is especially well drawn. Witherspoon more than makes up for her last seasonal comedy, “Four Christmases.” With Mark Linn-Baker, Lenny Venito, Molly Price, Ron McLarty, Shelley Conn, John Tormey, Teyonah Parris, Tony Shalhoub. 113m. (Bill Stamets)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.