Thursday, August 25, 2011
Movie Review: Life As We Know It (2010)
The biggest challenge for romantic comedy writers is coming up with designs for new hoops to be jumped through by the inevitable lovers, prior to their arrival at the pre-determined happy ending.
Life As We Know It succeeds in reaching for a fairly new premise: Holly and Eric, who initially can't stand each other, are forced to jointly care for a baby under tragic circumstances. Life As We Know It turns a typical couplehood stress point on its head: instead of the pressures of planned parenting rupturing a pre-existing relationship, Holly and Ken are unexpectedly thrown into unwanted parenting roles, and the experience brings them closer.
Holly (Katherine Heigl) and Eric (Josh Duhamel) once went out on a date that turned into an unmitigated disaster. But Katherine is best friends with Alison (Christina Hendricks), and Eric is best buddies with Peter (Hayes MacArthur), and Alison and Peter are a happily married couple. Holly and Eric are therefore the appointed godparents of the newborn Sophie, the first daughter of Alison and Peter. The worst does happen, and Sophie is orphaned. Holly and Eric are suddenly thrust into becoming the parents of a baby, having to deal with overwhelming responsibilities while learning to tolerate each other.
Eric is a hopeless womanizer, and his new role as a parent makes him even more irresistible to a succession of one-night hook-ups. Holly attracts the attention of Sam (Josh Lucas), Sophie's pediatrician. But inevitably, Eric and Holly are drawn together and transition from mutually repelling each other to parents who become lovers. Life for Eric gets complicated again when he gets the career opportunity of a lifetime, but accepting it would mean relocating away from his new roles of an accidental father to Sophie and unexpected partner to Holly.
Watching adults muddle through early parenting responsibilities is funny but well-worn movie territory. Life As We Know It trots out the typical laughs that stem from diaper changes, baby-sitters who are more capable than the parents, and exhausting night-long car drives to sooth the baby. But director Greg Berlanti keeps his eye on ball, and the travails of parenting in Life As We Know It are all about Holly and Eric discovering what they are individually capable of, and seeing in each other as partners something much more than what they were as singles.
The film demonstrates more than the usual bravery in hinging a romantic comedy on a tragedy, and the drama that underpins the narrative ensures that a serious undertone permeates through Life As We Know It, keeping the laughs in control and allowing plenty of time for examining themes of loss and sudden responsibility -- not the typical fare for what is often a light-headed genre. The relatively unique setting of Atlanta, Georgia is another plus -- romantic comedies can exist outside of New York.
Heigl, still struggling to carve out a post-Grey's Anatomy movie career, is a likable female lead, more approachable and earthy than a Jennifer Aniston, and less brash than a Kate Hudson. From the mild and predictable menu of comic, dramatic, attractive, sexy and romantic emotions required in the genre, Heigl is not brilliant at any one thing, but is at least above-average in all of them. Josh Duhamel is only in the movie for his hunky I-think-I'm-so-cool-on-my-motorcycle looks, and not even he appears to be attempting to pretend otherwise. The supporting cast is bland enough to inoffensively deliver the expected sideline quips while barely leaving a mark.
The movie does suffer from a typical fundamental weakness of romantic comedies, in glossing over exactly what triggers the attraction between Holly and Eric. A lot of minutes are invested in highlighting why these two simply do not get along. After episodes of splattered baby poo, diaper changes, and loud arguments, they suddenly fall into each other's arms, just because the running time is dangerously approaching the two hour mark.
The interesting premise of Life As We Know It does not a great movie make, but in this genre, interesting is often quite good enough.
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