REVIEW: Life As We Know It Features Cute Baby, Un-cute Grown-ups

Movieline Score: 6

A poorly conceived blind date is what brings Holly (Katherine Heigl) and Messer (Josh Duhamel) together, and an equally unsatisfying date movie plays out the weird wish-fulfilling story of couplehood and compromise that follows. Holly's friend Alison (Christina Hendricks, whose otherworldly hotness will not be tamed by an overlit chick flick) and her soon-to-be husband Peter (Hayes MacArthur) decide that a date with Messer will at least get Holly back onto the field (she was turfed by her boyfriend of three years, we find out later), but the duo don't make it out of the driveway. The clichés that they manifest happen to clash (kind of hard to get on a motorcycle in a narrow power dress; kind of assy to set up the end of your night with another woman while the first one is sitting beside you) and the date tanks. Or that's what the script says; the scene is unconvincing, and there's a lot more where that came from.

It seems I haven't mentioned the title yet, possibly because I keep forgetting it. My seventh check of the press notes reminds me it's Life As We Know It, a title whose aphoristic vacuity actually suits the film just fine. Although the premise is dark -- Alison and Peter get one montage to establish the glossy, four-poster perfection of their life together, their marriage, and the birth of their daughter before they bite the dust -- the film dispenses with it quickly. Director Greg Berlanti and writers Ian Deitchman and Kristin Robinson use it as a starting point for the same old ends: Girl wants commitment and baby, womanizing man-boy likes his life just the way it is (or does he?); by hook, crook, or giant cupcake, order must be restored.

Holly's a baker, Messer works in a sports broadcasting control room; she has plans to expand her business, he has plans for tonight. When their friends die and they realize that they have been named as legal guardians for the now one-year-old Sophie (an absurdly sweet baby girl played by triplets Alexis, Brynn, and Brooke Clagett), career and commitment panic ensues ("You could have just left me your pearls or your YSL clutch," Holly mutters) and Messer wants to bolt. The film is on his side, and surrounds the central duo with dead-eyed husbands and virago wives; the pathetic stay single, but only punks get married.

There is a callow, weak-kneed quality lurking beneath Duhamel's lanky, snub-nosed likability, and he gets at it here, although the script gives both actors little to work with outside of gender insults (he's a pig; she's bitter) and sight gags involving baby evacuations. More fun is the running gag made of Messer's popularity with the locals (including Melissa McCarthy in another queasy, big mama role): Married and straight couples alike monitor the comings and goings of the neighborhood ingénue.

It's a cheap but reasonably amusing choice, at least until you put it in the context of the film's garbled attitude toward its heroine. "It was easier for you," Messer says during one of the final blow-outs. "You wanted the life they had." That line marks the end of the script's attenuated emotional through-line: it's also an articulation of the presumption made throughout that the death of your best friend and the sudden responsibility for her baby is just easier if you're a woman who obviously wanted everything she had in the first place. We never get close enough to Holly to get a sense of what she wants or wanted. Equally uninspired is Messer's interest in Holly spiking only when she begins dating a hot pediatrician (Josh Lucas). He need only make that interest known for her to capitulate: In addition to a giant house and a baby, what Holly apparently wanted all along was an STD in a baseball hat. Despite these two actors' decent -- and occasionally very charming -- performances the film stacks the odds of the audience caring about Heigl and Duhamel against a narrative vacuum that favors eye candy and cheap effect over emotional logic. Check out that baby, though. Cute stuff.


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