How Do You Know when a movie is too long?

How Do You Know – 2010

Written and Directed by James L. Brooks

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson

When George Lucas made his horrible Star Wars prequels, many cynical people just assumed it was a money grab.  While Lucas is acutely aware of the process  in which profit is accrued, he genuinely thought he was putting out a good product.  But he so detested the screening process that once he got the clout, he ruled that out of his film making process.  While I am of the mind that studio intervention is not altogether a benefit to the movie making process, it showed that Lucas did not have enough people telling him “no.”  The same could likely be said about Brooks in his latest effort.  This movie is very likable, with many likable leads, but it drags to such an extent that it feels like James Brooks had person after person tell him that this scene was great and that line was great.  No one, it seems, had the temerity to tell him to edit this thing down to a manageable 90 minutes.

Of course, it is a crying shame, because this was supposed to be a return of sorts for Reese Witherspoon, who’d taken a break since 2008 to be with her kids.  Witherspoon is an actress of considerable talents when given the right material.  Here she, as Lisa Jorgenson, plays a career softball player who reaches a standstill when she is taken off of the team by the powers that be.  The fact that she never has played softball is clear in the lone scene that she takes the field.  After this one scene, you never see her don the cleats again.  Instead, you see her move in and out of the lives of Matty Reynolds (Wilson) and George Madison (Rudd) like a clunky, obvious thunderstorm, just kind of waiting for something to happen.  And talking a lot.

In the other storyline, we have Rudd, taking the fall for some non-specific corporate shenanigans.  He is waiting for the other shoe to drop, while his father, Charles (played in a state of dormancy by Nicholson), who is the real perp, wanders freely through the halls of their corporation.  Rudd takes his role and runs earnestly with it, but his position is compromised by verbosity and inconsistent tempo.  He has some great scenes and a lot more that just linger.

Matty Reynolds is Owen Wilson as a pro ball player.  If you’re having a hard time picturing the concept, it’s understandable.  He seems more a surfer, of course, but this time he is a surfer who is also extremely verbose.

There is a lot of explaining going on here.  One conversation leads to another and to another.  To no avail.  There is an occasional good scene here and there but you have to weed out stuff before and after and sometimes between.  To give a real detailed explanation of things would just add more to the conversing, and I don’t think anyone needs that.

All the scenes, in particular, with Kathryn Hahn playing George’s pregnant secretary, Annie, are exceptional.  Hahn plays it perfectly as George’s most ardent supporter.  She has a reconciliation scene in the hospital that is almost worth the price of admission.  And then, they had to tack on another 5 minutes or so…

Which brings me back to Brooks.  I am not going to be the one to question the talent or skill of the man who brought the world Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good As It Gets and some of the greatest television shows of all time.  His last few efforts, however, with Spanglish and now this, indicate that the talent is there, the focus is lacking, and someone needs to say “no” to the genius with all the power.  Based on the sales receipts, I would say the public said it loudest.

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2 thoughts on “How Do You Know when a movie is too long?

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