Life as We Know It

2010-10-30 18:44
 
Life as We Know It
 
What it's about:

Holly, a chef (played by Katherine Heigl) and Messer, a TV sports director (Josh Duhamel) are set up on a blind date by their mutual friends, a married couple, but the date is a disaster. When the couple are killed in a car accident, they leave the care of their baby daughter, Sophie, to the mismatched pair. Holly and Messer decide to fulfil their friends' wishes and raise Sophie together while living in the same house.

What we thought:

There's so much about Life as We Know It that screams charm, and the very thought of the premise evokes those warm-hearted feelings of care and nurturing, even sympathy, that makes romantic, against-all-the-odds movies such as this one so appealing. And for all its good intentions, it's a movie that's more careless, even colder than it realises.

Katherine Heigl is an actress I'm sure is first on the list of casting directors in search of the perfect pretty face to play the spirited single girl in their latest romcom we're helpless but care about. She's cheaper than Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, has credibility and has played the part about a thousand times before. And it shows.

As the uptight (what else?) single gal with too much on her plate for motherhood, Heigl's performance is as shrieky, paranoid and frankly unlikeable as in her last five movies. It's a role she's honed down to something of an annoying art, so I won't expect her to be changing her tune for the following five. As always, she looks great and even more so when paired up with the handsome Josh Duhamel whose Messer would rather pick up chicks in bars than dirty nappies off the floor. He is as typical as they come, but there's a more human undercurrent to Duhamel's performance that propels the love story forward, and actually lightens the mood because he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what he is: an overgrown teenage boy. He's a better comedic actor than this script gives him credit for, and I'm pretty sure he got me choked up when he mourned his friends.

And then there is Sophie herself. Adorable just doesn’t quite describe the innocent joy her little face projects. As portrayed by triplets Alexis, Brynn and Brooke Clagett, Sophie is the one who makes it all worthwhile.Two characters we sadly don’t get to spend enough time with are Sophie's dearly departed parents, Peter and Alison (played by Hayes MacArthur and Mad Men's Christina Hendricks). As the reality of their death starts to sink in and the issue of Sophie's custody is raised, the movie makes a very awkward shift from unimaginable tragedy to cutesy odd-couple humour in a matter of minutes, no, seconds. It really is a shift that needn’t happen at all. Why can't Holly and Messer just grieve properly and fall in love without all the tired baby poo and vomit jokes in between? Exasperating.

Greg Berlanti is a veteran of television drama (he's not yet 40 and has created award-winning shows such as Everwood and Brothers and Sisters) and knows his way around a complicated domestic situation. Some of the parenting obstacles that Holly and Messer stumble their way through some of Sophie's growing pains – her distaste for Holly's expert cooking, the many sleep-disturbed nights – should ring true for most parents. Though it's a bit shocking how many poor parenting decisions are played for laughs. In one rather disturbing scene, Messer pushes poor Sophie to the ground in desperation and makes her cry. Who would do such a thing to a baby?

And that's not even the worst of it. He entrusts her care to a taxi driver – a complete stranger! – when he needs to get to work and Holly is unavailable. I suppose we're not meant to worry about Sophie's safety too much because the taxi driver looks like the human version of a Teddy bear, but come on, writers. You've just established that what we have here is a very real dilemma, so let's not cheapen it with disingenuous comedy. If Sophie had been a boy, the movie would almost certainly have included a scene of projectile urination into someone's face. It's as if 1989's Look Who's Talking is now a relic in need of a retread. So no, you won't learn anything new here – other than the theory that babies love falling asleep to the sound of Radiohead. Which sounds about right to me.

Thankfully Life as We Know It is painfully aware, as is its audience, of where this little saga is headed, because it's going to get there, authenticity be damned. And when it does reach its contrived, inevitable destination, it feels oddly satisfying.

Yet another ordinary romantic comedy, but it really should not have been.

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