Theatrical Review: LIFE AS WE KNOW IT
It’s really just that same old story – boy and girl get set up by mutual friends, hate each other on sight, are forced to spend entire swathes of time together due to mutual friends, friends die, boy and girl have to raise friends’ baby together. Happens all the time. You can probably guess what happens after that baby-raising. Love. Blissful, pot brownie-fueled love. Am I giving it all away? Well, not anymore than any other trailer for LIFE AS KNOW IT has already, except maybe for that pot brownie part.
Our boy and girl at the center of this same old story are Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel). Of course, you better call Eric by his last name because, you can guess, he’s a mess. Holly and Messer aren’t going for any sort of brain-busting flips on the typical character tropes we meet in romantic comedies – Holly is uptight and career-driven and can’t land a man to save her life, Messer is sloppy and sexy and doesn’t care about anyone but himself. This is classic romantic comedy ground – which is not to say it’s good ground, it’s boring ground.
The film opens with that ill-fated date – Holly patiently waiting for the perpetually late Messer, perpetually late Messer showing up an hour late and not just not caring, not even realizing. Whatever it is that made Holly and Messer’s mutual best friends, Peter and Alison, set them up must stem from a desire for some hearty belly laughs and some deep-seated resentment. They are a mismatch, to put it mildly. The date ends before it even begins, and even as Holly gets Alison on the phone to demand she never have to see Messer again, we see the future laid out before us – Holly and Messer are doomed to spend their social lives with each other, until tragedy, and they have to spend their entire lives with each other.
Alison and Peter leave us, and this mortal coil, after we get to know Holly and Messer further – that is to say, after we have their paint-by-the-numbers personality flaws beat into our skulls. For probably the same reasons they set Messer and Holly up in the first place, Alison and Peter’s will has set the mismatched duo as joint guardians of their baby girl, Sophie. Lives get flipped upside down, wacky parenting failures occur, and we are all left to wonder just when Holly and Messer will realize they are meant to be together. I mean, they are, right? That’s the point of this entire exercise, correct?
Yet, there are some small bright spots in this well-traveled road. Josh Duhamel’s loutish Messer might have proven intolerable in the hands of any other actor. Duhamel, however, infuses him with just the right amount of mischievous energy that makes Messer not seem like such a truly lost loser. Duhamel would do well by himself and audiences alike to stick to the rom-com leading man role. Katherine Heigl, despite having a public likability problem, is more than just tolerable on-screen, she’s actually sort of lovely. Despite all of Holly’s “quirks” that are meant to make us believe that she’s keeping herself from her own happiness, Heigl is often very funny. But it’s when she also allows Holly to give herself over to the breakdowns as they come that we see the film that might have been. As Holly comes to grips with her situation in the pediatrician’s office, it may at first seem like a typical fussbudget rant, but there’s a layer of true desperation underneath it. As masochistic as that may sound, that’s more of the film I wanted to see.
The problem that seems to lurk under LIFE AS WE KNOW IT is the basic truth that leads its entire premise - this is a sad story. I saw LIFE AS WE KNOW IT with my best friend sitting next to me, and parts of it infused me with a sense of terror so profound I could almost taste it. The task of the film and its actors is to make us want to enjoy a flimsy love story in the face of tragedy – but so much of the plot is simply ludicrous (even to the major plot point that Holly and Messer must live in Peter and Alison’s house with baby Sophie) that it’s hard to focus on any of the good.