James L. Brooks masters comedy from the inside out
According to the research Jim Brooks did for his new movie, “How Do You Know,” many athletes set aside part of their homes for their trophies. If he did the same thing, he’d have to build a separate wing to accommodate all the hardware he’s received in more than 40 years in show business: three Oscars (for writing, directing and producing “Terms of Endearment”) plus nearly two dozen Emmys for his work on such programs as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi” and “The Simpsons.”
“They’re scattered, some in my office, some in my home,” Brooks says with a little laugh – not his high-pitched, crazy laugh. He’s seated in a swanky New York hotel room wearing a jeans and oatmeal-colored-sweater combination that makes him look as if he’d just gone out to buy a quart of milk.
Make no mistake: The professorial-looking Brooks, 70, is not a household name, but he is an influential Hollywood figure. Part of his relative obscurity has to do with the nature of his work on television, which is more star-driven. Part of it is his behind-the-scenes mentorship of filmmakers such as Cameron Crowe (“Jerry Maguire”) and Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”).
And part of it is that he’s made only six feature films in his career: The others are “Terms of Endearment” (1983), “Broadcast News” (1987), “I’ll Do Anything” (1994), “As Good as It Gets” (1997) and “Spanglish” (2004). His comedy is situational and character-driven, and sometimes the characters themselves are off-putting.
“How Do You Know” is no exception. Though it features big stars (Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson), their characters do familiar things in familiar ways, meaning they act out of self-interest (or think they do) and frequently exercise poor judgment.
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