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Life As We Know It

October 9, 2010

Life As We Know It

Another year, another run-of-the-mill romantic comedy with Katherine Heigl. I recently read a list of “Ten Stars Who Play The Same Role Over And Over (And It’s Usually Themselves)”, and sure enough: there she is at number six.

So what’s the setup this time? Holly Berenson (Heigl) and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) are both close friends of Pete (Hayes MacArthur) and Allison (Christina Hendricks) Novak, and godparents of their daughter Sophie (Alexis, Brynn, and Brooke Clagett). They also can’t stand each other. Holly is a control-oriented entrepreneur with a moderately successful bakery and Messer is an overgrown frat-boy who works in the broadcasting booth at Atlanta Hawks games. And unbeknownst to either of them, they’re the ones Pete and Allison have selected to care for Sophie in the extremely unlikely event that they both die.

Of course, there’s a car accident and this clause kicks into effect. Holly and Messer are suddenly thrown together into a palatial house whose mortgage is conveniently taken care of for at least the first year, and into joint responsibility for a baby girl neither of them know quite what to do with. Somehow they have to figure out which way is up with the help of pediatrician Sam (Josh Lucas) and “the baby-whisperer” Amy (Britt Flatmo). Cue hijinks.

Most of the humor comes from Sophie: babies are loud; babies are helpless; babies are expensive; babies are messy. And soon enough both of the leads are sleep-deprived, inconvenienced in their careers, strapped for cash, and smeared with various excreta. Half the time we’re not supposed to laugh at their foibles so much as grin wryly along with the Greek chorus of more experienced parents on the street.

The endgame is pretty well cast by this point. Messer will have to grow up and put the more rewarding family life, while Holly will have to loosen up to better deal with all the unexpected twists and turns that come with raising a child. And of course the two will have to get past their differences and fall in love with each other.

But you know what? I don’t buy it. And I don’t just mean the conveniently-constructed setup. I don’t believe in Messer’s road-to-DamascusPhoenix conversion in the slightest. He never really embraces the role of father the way Holly does that of mother. The closest he comes is goofy uncle. And I don’t believe he has any really deep affection for Holly, either. Yes, he says it, but we’ve just seen two hours of him saying whatever he things a string of early-twenty-somethings want to hear. Really, the whole movie should have ended about twenty minutes earlier, blown off the shackles of convention, and left the characters happier all around for the difference.

Worth it: not really. On the other hand, if you’re a guy like Messer this would probably make a great date movie to close the deal.
Bechdel test: I know some people are going to disagree, but I say it fails. The only other women to speak of are Allison and one of the other mothers, and I don’t think either of them are significantly developed at all to count.

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