The quirky romantic comedy of the Christmas season is How Do You Know, a tale of a post-prime Olympic softball player (Reese Witherspoon) bouncing between two suitors, the hyper-gregarious professional pitcher (Owen Wilson) and a hapless executive caught in legal trouble (Paul Rudd). Witherspoon herself coughs up an uninspired performance, though the film is made worthy by a refreshingly unpredictable script and the constant curveballs thrown by Wilson, Rudd and the churlish Jack Nicholson.
At the heart of the movie is one woman’s decision between two “new males.” For all the differences between the courters, the two share a sense of honesty and boyish irresponsibility. Each one is sensitive and tolerant, world-wise and willing to play the game of mutual narcissism. To the point, each one exists as an entertainer.
That is what romance has come to in the post-practical age. No longer do men provide any tangible service. The real choice comes down to whether a man’s charisma keeps a woman in thrall. How do you know if you’ve found the one? You just know – i.e., you just measure your subjective level of humoredness in his presence.
Polls consistently report women saying that “sense of humor” ranks highest in the qualities they are looking for in men. That ambiguous response, tied up in women’s misguided quests for populistic notions of self-actualization, seems to have come of age in How Do You Know, a movie whose epistemological question craters into the ethical vacuum under its own feet.