I just differed with a guy about James L. Brooks‘ How Do You Know (Sony, 12.17). He says it isn’t a problem movie like others have said, and claims to know someone who feels it may be Brooks’ best film since Broadcast News. This isn’t a review (I’ll be waiting until early next week), but that’s horseshit, what that guy said.
How Do You Know has some lines and little moments that work very nicely. It’s not my idea of a disaster — I can foresee a portion of the critics saying it’s okay — but my main impression was that of a very bizarre, strangely un-life-like film. The writing is simultaneously clever and constipated, and the lighting and the cinematography seem overly poised and prettified. It looks and feels like a play at the Lucille Lortel, in a sense. Or certainly like it’s happening in some kind of Hollywood fairyland that feels a lot like a sound-stage set (i.e., one that’s meant to simulate certain indoor settings in Washington, D.C.).
It seems as if Brooks has entered his formalist, out-of-time, older-director phase. The look and tone and pacing of How Do You Know reminded me of the look and tone and pacing of Alfred Hitchcock‘s films after The Birds — the increasingly rigid and old-fogey-behind-the-camera feeling of Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Family Plot, etc. (Some believe that Frenzy was an exception; I don’t.) I’m talking about a phase in which a director is not only repeating the kind of brush strokes that felt fresher and less constipated 20, 25 or 30 years earlier, but emphasizing them so as to say “I know this may seem unnatural to some of you out there, but this is how I like to do things, no matter how stylistically out-of-touch this film may seem. This is me, take it or leave it.”