Katherine Heigl Febrezes that one role she wears and gives it another dance down the runway in Life as We Know It, a romantic comedy about a baby becoming an orphan.
Because what’s funnier or more romantic than a kid with dead parents, am I right?
Holly Berenson (Heigl) is an uptight, unfun bakery owner who is set up by her friends Peter (Hayes MacArthur) and Alison (Christina Hendricks) with sports TV producer Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel), who tells people to call him Messer because Immaturity Q. Funpants is such a mouthful. Their date is short and horrible, ending before they leave the parking space in front of Holly’s house, but because Messer is Peter’s bud and Holly is Alison’s pal, the two keep running into and annoying each other as the years go by — first at Peter and Alison’s wedding and then at their housewarming and then at the birthday party for their one-year-old daughter Sophie (Alexis, Bryn and Brooke Clagett).
And then one night Holly gets the horrible news that Peter and Alison have been in a car accident. She calls Messer and they pull together for what they think will be the day or two it takes to arrange a funeral and see that Sophie goes wherever she’s supposed to. But, as it turns out, where Sophie is supposed to go is back to Peter and Alison’s house where she will live with Messer and Holly. They, the dead people, left their daughter to them, their single and acrimonious friends. Unimpressed with the relatives who could take Sophie off their hands, Holly and Messer decide to give parenting a whirl. Messer has to rein in his swinging single life and Holly has to look annoyed and both of them have to learn how to change a diaper without throwing up.
Will all this domesticity cause love to blossom? Ooo, who’s to say what will happen? It will be a big surprise!
As required by federal law, 30 minutes before the end of the movie, the characters get in a big fight, thus kicking off the Sad 20 Minutes that precede the final scenes of any romantic comedy. (Sometimes it’s 30 minutes. If it’s a British romance with absolutely no comedy, it can end with someone dying. But otherwise, this is not a formula that sees a lot of variation.) This fight is moronic in the extreme. I could have acted it out with sock puppets and had it make the same amount of sense and have the same emotional impact. And, yes, the preceding movie is also filled with pat, lazy dialogue, but what makes the fight scene particularly egregious is that if any two normal people were having this conversation, it might be full of emotion and confusion and frustration but it would also involve facts and questions and discussion. Pick any random person out of, say, an oversexed Seattle hospital and grab the other one off the streets of a small town called Pine Valley (filled with exceptionally rich people and a high number of amnesia cases), let them write the dialogue and you could probably get them to have a conversation with more realism. The big fight is the thing that makes the characters examine their true feelings and the thing that’s supposed to make us in the audience really want these two crazy kids to make it. But the fight, like the movie as a whole, is so contrived that it is meaningless. I realize there are no surprises in this kind of movie, nothing you won’t see coming a mile off. But that’s why the journey has to be enjoyable (and, on rare occasion, it can be; the recent Going the Distance is an example of a movie where the journey is fun enough to let you forgive the clichés).
The concept this movie is built on — two people, heretofore unattached, coming together to raise their best friends’ baby — is not horrible, per se. You could probably built a passable sitcom on it. With considerably sharper writing and more enjoyable characters, one might even be able to gin up a satisfying movie. But we don’t get comedy nearly as sharp as, say, the comedy on The Middle or Modern Family. We don’t get characters as multidimensional as the ones on either of those TV shows either. We get pretty people and a half-baked setup and then the movie leaves us to Heigl’s shrillery and cheesecake shots of Duhamel and asks us to make our own fun. C-
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and some drug content. Directed by Greg Berlanti and written by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, Life as We Know It is an hour and 52 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.