A few weeks ago, You Again hit theaters with the rather unbelievable idea that someone wouldn’t have any idea who her brother was marrying until 48 hours before the ceremony.
This week, it’s Life as We Know It, the romantic comedy (with a very morbid undertone), starring Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl. They play two single, oil-and-water adults who must put aside their differences to raise the baby who was orphaned when their friends die in a car crash. The rub? Apparently their friends never told them about the guardian-ship agreement. Really? Maybe you’re reeeally confident that you’re never going to die (oops!), but wouldn’t you at least run the idea past said guardians-to-be?
Fortunately, the chemistry between Duhamel and Heigl, along with the avoidance of many of the clichéd moments that seem to plague movies like this, helps elevate Life as We Know It to a level somewhere between ‘fine’ and ‘really good’.
Duhamel plays Messer, a womanizing ‘dude’ who always wears a baseball cap and can’t seem to go five minutes without popping open a beer. Heigl is Holly, the successful owner of ‘Fraiche’, a local bakery. Her hair is always perfect, and her wardrobe is culled straight from the pages of Elle. As the movie opens, the two of them are going on a blind date, after being set up by mutual friends Peter and Alison. It’s, of course, a disaster. He brings his motorcycle, doesn’t make reservations anywhere, and gets a call from another girl before they’ve even left the driveway (in her SmartCar).
Two years later, they’re still (separately) in each other’s lives, attending Peter and Alison’s wedding (Holly makes the cake. Messer gropes a waitress.) and celebrating the 1st birthday of the couple’s daughter Sophie (Holly makes the cake. Messer swigs a beer.) Shortly after that, though, tragedy strikes, as Peter and Alison are killed in a car crash. (Sophie was home with a sitter.) Turns out, even though Holly and Messer are the baby’s godparents, no one told them that they’re also named in the couples’ will as her guardians.
Once the initial ‘hell no!’ wears off (and after trying to pawn the child off on a nine-child family, a stripper, and a 90-year old grandpa, all at Peter and Alison’s funeral), Holly and Messer come around and decide to enter the brave new world of child-rearing… together.
Yes, there are still some clichéd moments, (It is a baby movie, after all– you know there’ll be baby poop and baby puke, though we’re thankfully spared the hold-the-baby-up-and-it-pees-all-over-you scene), but by and large, Life as We Know It manages to stay fresh and entertaining. Chalk it up to Heigl (who finally tones things enough that a co-star can share the screen with her) and Duhamel (one of the most underrated actors working today). The two of them work very well together, and they’re bolstered by a very funny supporting cast, including Melissa McCarthy (The Gilmore Girls‘ Sookie) as the leader of the neighborhood gaggle of loons and Sarah Burns as the social services caseworker.
Director Greg Berlanti and first-time screenwriters Kristin Rusk Robinson and Ian Deitchman do a nice job balancing the comedy with the serious undertones of Peter and Alison’s deaths. And while the overall plot of Life as We Know It is telegraphed from pretty much the opening scene, there are plenty of surprises along the way.
Plus, any movie that espouses the evil that is “The Wiggles” is fine by me.