WHAT IS IT?
Two things blended together surprisingly well: A rom-com mixed with a baby pic. The first you know about. The second is a bit trickier, since babies have a more flexible pedigree in the movie world. Sure, sometimes they're all sweetness and light, but just as often they're not. Hell, the tykes frequently get played for sheer horror, growing up wicked ( The Bad Seed) or, in Rosemary's unfortunate case, into the very Devil himself. Even parentless children aren't always the helpless victims they seem: As Orphan recently proved, happy couples who adopt may not be happy for long.
By contrast, for unhappy couples, and for narcissistic singles, the baby usually reverts to clichéd type, becoming just the bouncing bundle of joy needed to put their rancorous or solipsistic or misguidedly ambitious lives back on the track to Pleasantville. Here, the adults are the horrible screw-ups and the kid is the comic saviour. So it was for Diane Keaton in Baby Boom. And so it is in Life As We Know It.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Well, the rom gets put in the com even before the credits roll, when Holly and Eric (Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel) venture out on a blind date and quickly face the impediment to romance: They can't stand each other. She's an uptight lady, and he's an easygoing lady-killer. Happily, this mutual hatred is matched only by their shared love for mutual friends, a married couple with, yes, a newborn named Sophie. Unhappily, said couple die in a car accident, a tragic intrusion that lasts only long enough to set the premise: Their will appoints guess-which-twosome as co-guardians of the orphaned child. But please don't mistake this gooey premise for a TV sitcom; in fact, it was a TV movie - back in 2004 and called Raising Waylon.
From there, of course, it's the baby's job to prove to the hitherto disdainful duo that they really love each other. During that altogether predictable process, it's our job to laugh as the insta-parents contend with the inevitable poopy diapers and sleepless nights and crying fits (some of them even by Sophie). We're also obliged to act worried when further complications arise to thwart their union - like her interest in Sam the good doctor, or his in taking a job in another city.
But here's the nice surprise: Our part of the bargain is a lot easier to uphold than we might have thought. Why? Partly because the dialogue is an occasionally witty cut above the norm, partly because director Greg Berlanti goes easy on those cute baby reaction shots, but mainly because of something rather more valuable: screen chemistry.
DOES IT MATTER?
In movie rom-coms, in movies generally, chemistry always matters. Heigl and Duhamel spark off each other quite brightly. Now such chemical equations are often ineffable and hard to parse, but, in this match, my best guess is that she's the explosive sulphur to his wooden hunk. After all, even when hunk-less, even when paired with Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, Heigl still managed to generate some heat, all the while flashing not inconsiderable gifts as a comic actor. Those gifts don't get fully tapped here, but they're not entirely wasted either.
So voila. If innocuous entertainment, amiable enough while it lasts but forgettable beyond, has a place in life as you know it, then Life As We Know It will have a place in your heart. And, if not, Hollywood doesn't want to know you.
Life as We Know It
- Directed by Greg Berlanti
- Written by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson
- Starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel
- Classification: PG