Compared to 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth and Killers — The Ugly Truth and Killers being extra-specially evil benchmarks of how low modern romantic comedies can go — Life as We Know It does not crush your soul, does not turn Katherine Heigl into a shrill pain in the keister, only occasionally devolves into clumsy, poorly timed slapstick and outstays its modest but heartfelt welcome only by 10-15 minutes. Killers had a running time of 93 minutes yet somehow managed to outstay its welcome by 94.
I have a sinking feeling that me having had a not-bad time at Life as We Know It, which co-stars the appealing Josh Duhamel, means it’s destined to make less money than any of the above. For a film deeply into formula, both of the baby and the screenwriting varieties, it’s just scrappy and off-center enough to alienate a sizable portion of the audience. To which I say: Good for you! At times like these we must remember what that great, great Hollywood mogul Henrik Ibsen said: “The majority is always wrong.”
Heigl and Duhamel are playing safely within their grooves, to the extent that Heigl’s character, a baker and caterer, owns up to being “a bit of a control freak” (who doesn’t think of Heigl that way?) and Duhamel wears his baseball cap backward, signifying carefree lad-about-town, and a boyman resisting the responsibilities of unexpected parenthood. (All that from a cap!) Premise:
After their best friends die in a car accident, Holly (Heigl) and Eric (Duhamel), the godparents who can barely tolerate each other, learn they’ve been named guardians of year-old Sophie. Uneasily they move in to their late friends’ spacious Atlanta home and begin playing competing versions of “house.”
The movie covers a year in their complicated lives, as they inch toward romance (a prologue set in 2007 establishes that they tried one blind date and failed). The telegramming of certain gags, certain baby vomit-and-poop-related gags, is enough to bring the telegram back into a second golden age. What’s different here is the mixture of tones. The movie begins with a tragedy and eases into a more interesting blend of drama and comedy than we’ve gotten in this genre lately.
Director Greg Berlanti’s TV credits (Brothers & Sisters, Dawson’s Creek, Everwood) explain the attractive synthetic materials on display, but the script by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson takes time to establish the leads as fully functioning and reasonably likable adults who are (surprise) nothing like each other. Yet the movie doesn’t feel like a put-down of the female protagonist. It’s not about taming the shrew. This is a change from what audiences have come to expect from the usual Heigl vehicle. She’s quicker-witted and warmer than usual here, and she keeps Duhamel on his toes, even when the storyline drags its feet. Yes, there’s a dash to the airport to confess how much so-and-so loves so-and-so. But even that doesn’t play out according to the ancient blueprint, dating back to when movie characters ran to train stations more often than tarmacs.