Aspiring to combine comedy, tragedy and romance into a deep-meaning treatise on the prettiest and happiest white people you’ve ever seen, Life As We Know It is less than it pretends to be. Newbie screenwriters Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson give us frat-boy womanizer Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel), who is a broadcast technician for a live television sports show when he isn’t chasing anything in a skirt.
As best friend to married couple Peter and Alison Novack, Messer goes on a doomed date with the couple’s single friend Holly (Katherine Heigl). A car accident unites Messer and Holly as bequeathed legal guardians to the Novacks’ only daughter Sophie. The duo play house for much too long without broaching the idea that they should get married in order to bring up Sophie in a committed familial atmosphere. Baby-poo-on-Holly’s-face humor stubs its toe periodically on strained reaches at sentimentality that leave the movie in a cloud of genre confusion. There isn’t enough redeeming entertainment value here to make Life As We Know It worth the trouble.
Hollywood romantic comedies have become the bargain basement genre that’s like a sinkhole for talent. Heigl has turned herself into its latest victim by not sticking with the likes of Judd Apatow, with whom she made the hugely successful comedy Knocked Up. Poor choices such as The Ugly Truth and 27 Dresses have left Heigl on wobbly ledge. Duhamel shows up like a younger, more polished version of Johnny Knoxville. The Transformers actor has an easy movie star quality that’s all surface and poker-faced attitude.
The clear lack of attraction between the two actors might come as some sort of reprieve if only there was a shred of believability to their perfectly quaffed characters. For example, Holly owns and runs a pastry shop because that’s what all Hollywood romantic comedy women do these days.
A would-be emotional moment comes when Holly and Messer wake up in their deceased friends’ house after living there for several months to realize that they should redecorate.
There’s something not entirely right in the construction of the storyline where Peter and Alison perish off-screen before the audience has had a chance to sufficiently identify with their characters. Apparently, all we need to know is that baby Sophie is in the hands of two good-looking people who respect but don’t like one another. Or is it the other way around?
The trouble is that, although two years pass, we never see Holly and Messer develop any system of communication and support system that could sustain a parental relationship. Holly has a crush on Sophie’s pediatrician Sam (Josh Lucas), who conveniently isn’t really man enough to make much of a claim on Holly and Sophie in the face of Messer’s big-dog approach to everything. The story splinters off for a subplot feint about Sam’s and Holly’s relationship but nothing is revealed about how they relate on a personal level.
The audience is never shown which piece of teetering emotional relationship to invest in. Holly seems to have it made with two hot-shot guys vying for her attention. Messer is satisfied to bed random women he meets with Sophie as his romantic ploy. Baby Sophie becomes a codified message about grown-up interaction. The character archetypes of Holly, Messer and Sam compete in ways that shut down emotionally.
Here’s a story bogged down by its unexpressed ideas. Not narratively sturdy enough to support its mishandled strike of tragedy, Life As We Know It draws suspicion to its dramatic motives. There’s a veneer of insincerity shrink-wrapped over a movie about an inherited responsibility for a child between two glossy caricatures of potential parent material. It’s a good thing that this movie doesn’t actually represent life as we know it.
Life As We Know It (PG-13) ★★☆☆☆