Who's In It: Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson, Kathryn Hahn, Mark Linn-Baker
The Basics: Reese Witherspoon is an Olympic women's softball team member recently cut for turning 31 and slowing down. Owen Wilson is her sort-of boyfriend, a self-absorbed pro baseball pitcher with no sense for what women want. Paul Rudd is a corporate exec under federal investigation for fraud, but the real crook is his dad, Jack Nicholson. Wilson and Rudd both want Witherspoon, who needs to figure out which is more important, what looks good on paper or what feels right in life. And like most rom-coms these days, the movie pushes you to make an obvious empathy-based choice.
What's The Deal: This might be the talking-est movie of the year. While the sad majority of contemporary romantic comedies rely on episodic, doofus-friendly, lowest-common-denominator situations to keep you looking at the screen until the inevitable make-out scene at the end (Oh dang, Amy Adams just decided to climb that soaking wet, clovery hill and that roguish Ireland Guy is going to make her miss her train and--oops!--they just both fell in the mud with all the hogs!), this film puts you in rooms with its characters and lets them talk. And talk. And talk. And then they make pronouncements and discoveries about life and then they talk some more. They jaw your ears off, to be honest. But I found it refreshing. Not enough films let their characters talk enough. Because if they did it would usually stop the idiotic plot in its tracks. Points for meandering down the road less traveled.
Playing To Their Strengths: Nobody in the cast is required to stretch. Like not one inch. Wilson never breaks stride maintaining his ongoing "Butterscotch Stallion" persona, Rudd is the likable and funny Everyman, Witherspoon is a highly-motivated Type A with lots of self-help Post-Its on her bathroom mirror, and Nicholson is the sarcastic voice of blunt selfishness. And you could complain that they've all been cast to type. Or you could just sit in that comfy chair with them and let them do what they do best. It's easier if you choose the latter.
However: Thanks to that sense of been-there-done-that from the stars, the movie winds up really belonging to character actor Kathryn Hahn as Rudd's extremely pregnant, extremely worry-prone secretary. Not only is she the funniest person on screen, the film's most moving sequence takes place between her and her one-scene-having boyfriend, played by Lenny Venito. So if you're getting antsy, don't choose the hospital scene to get up and go get more popcorn. You'll miss the best part.
The James L. Brooks Scorecard: As a director he hits and he misses. You get big hits like Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News and strikeouts like I'll Do Anything and Spanglish. Hovering somewhere in the middle is the Oscar-winning-but-still-somewhat-annoying As Good As It Gets. You can call this one a solid second-base run.