A critic friend with slightly dweeby, ComicCon-ish taste in films saw James L. BrooksHow Do You Know (Sony, 12.17) two days ago (i.e., Saturday, 12.4) and is calling it “one of the most grueling experiences I’ve had this year…I seriously almost walked out but only stayed through the end because I knew that it was bad enough to make my year’s worst list…it’s this year’s It’s Complicated, only worse.”

Another critic friend slightly disagrees. How Do You Knowisn’t nearly as bad” as all that, she says, “but it’s also not something you need to worry about putting into a Top Ten list. It ain’t Broadcast News, but I don’t think anyone is actually expecting it to be. Go in with an open mind, think of what your middle-aged cousins and aunts and uncles would want to see, and revel in Paul Rudd‘s charming Rudd-ness.”

A third critic strongly disagrees with the “most grueling experience” guy. “It’s not News but it’s way better than Spanglish,” he says. “It’s a little unfocused as it shuffles along, but everyone’s game, the script has humorous cynicism…it’s mainstream entertainment, but Brooks manages to steer it away from Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron territories.”

This still feels a little sad. How does a guy as good as Brooks used to be — Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, As Good As It Gets — devolve to the level of Spanglish and now this? How do you un-learn how to make really good films that are connected to issues and currents that most recognize and accept as heartfelt and truthful?