LAFF 2011 Review: L!FE HAPPENS
In Kat Coiro’s L!FE HAPPENS, life (or, as the film’s opening credits hint, something that would need to be hidden with clever punctuation) indeed happens, as regular girl Kim finds her entire existence turned upside down when a night of unprotected sex leads to the most unexpected result of all. That would be a baby. What a shock! The film sees Kim (Krysten Ritter) and her two best friends and roommates Deena (Kate Bosworth) and Laura (Rachel Bilson) attempting to stick to their hip lives in eastside Los Angeles while also trying to raise up a little man who needs them for much more than just a roll in the hay or a night out on the town.
The film will inevitably draw comparisons to this year’s other big female “buddy comedy” BRIDESMAIDS, and Ritter’s Kim has much in common with Kristen Wiig’s character in that film, Annie. Kim has made a series of mistakes in life, compounded with both bad luck and immaturity issues. And when Kim is all but forced to grow up by the birth of baby Max, she still resists it, to the point that she lies about her motherhood status in order to land a man. But it’s that lie that allows the self-illumination necessary for Kim to finally grow up and shut up – or does it?
Much like BRIDESMAIDS, L!FE HAPPENS works best when it hones in on the relationship that is ostensibly at its center – the best friendship between Kim and Deena. The film’s first half is overstuffed with too many loose ends, a somewhat unnecessary romance, and overly quirky touches, and it struggles to find both its tone and focus amid so many muddled elements. But when L!FE HAPPENS comes together in its final third, jettisoning cheap laughs in favor of real emotion, it becomes a wonderfully honest look at the pressures of both new motherhood and long-term friendship.
But the film’s real strength is the very different performances turned in by its large cast. Krysten Ritter is both funny and unexpectedly vulnerable as Kim, able to make a character that could be maddening and unsympathetic feel real and relatable. Kim frequently makes some terrible decisions, but Ritter never lets the audience wish anything but the best for Kim and baby Max. Kate Bosworth gives the most natural and relaxed performance as Deena, even when she’s saddled with some over-the-top touches that seem to exist solely to remind the audience that Deena may be a career girl, but she’s also sexually liberated (check out her cheap “library seduction” scene for a prime example of this).
Coiro also populates her film with some standout supporting characters, particularly Kristen Johnson as Kim’s deranged boss Francesca and Justin Kirk as Deena’s dedicated and bizarre potential suitor. Other cast members, however, are given scarce little to work with – Bilson is doomed to trot around in sexy outfits, Geoff Stults is never fully developed as Kim’s love interest, and Jason Biggs pops up for a couple of amusing scenes that prove ultimately pointless.
The script was written by director Coiro and lead actress Ritter, and though it’s often lacking when it comes to keeping a tight focus or a cohesive tone, these women clearly love the story they’re telling, and that shines through. If L!FE HAPPENS is just their first feature outing together, they can only improve on what they've put together here, and they've clearly got the chops for it. The film once went by the name BFF & BABY (and please, can we go back to that?), and its current punctuated title reaches for quirkiness, but falls short of being truly memorable – much like the film itself. There’s some really great, interesting, fresh stuff here, but it so often gets lost in L!FE HAPPENS’ first-half jumble and a lingering sense that the film could be so much richer and so much wiser.