If the clumsy title is any indication (what "Life"? What are "We" supposed to "Know"?) then, states Kimberly Gadette, we may be in for another rom-coma. But if it's prettier than The Ugly Truth and livelier than Killers, perhaps there's hope.
For critics who complain that the set-ups for rom-coms are all too predictable, this one's certainly not been done before. Inventive? Sort of. Believable? Not on your life.
And yet the opening is still reliably formulaic. The Boy (Josh Duhamel's Messer) shows up for a blind date with the Girl (Katherine Heigl's Holly). He's surly and rude, and she won't stand for it. In what may rival the shortest date in history, he's kicked to the curb within minutes. And so we have the usual set-up of instant enemies who will eventually go ga-ga for each other.
In a quick montage, we watch these two over a three-year period, their initial hostility transformed into aggressive teasing. Since they are the mutual best friends of the couple who had set them up (the Novaks, played by Hayes MacArthur and Christina Hendricks), whenever the Novaks have a gathering, Messer and Holly are in attendance – at the wedding, the baby shower, the first birthday of the Novaks' baby Sophie (played by Alexis, Brynn and Brooke Clagett). When the Novaks suddenly die in a car accident – hold onto your rom-com hats, here comes mission, um, implausible – it turns out that without any prior conversations, the Novaks had appointed their two best friends as co-guardians of their child, with the stipulation that they move into the Novak home together.
We're probably as confused as Messer and Holly as we try to factor in the obvious. What if one of the singles wants to someday get married and have a family of his or her own? What if living under the same roof becomes unbearable? And how is it that neither of these two supposedly responsible parents, now dead, thought to consult their best friends before they wrote this guardianship into the will?
Though screenwriters Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson have created some amusing supporting characters, and have peppered the script with very funny one-liners, it's in their overall plotting that the film suffers. We want to enjoy the ride; but at the same time, this initial device of throwing two enemies together, neither of whom has had any child-rearing experience, into parenting an infant under the same roof is hard to swallow. Other glaring faults include the fact that the writers first introduce us to a churlish Messer, verging on the mean. Which makes the actor work doubly hard to win our affection. Surprisingly, we get no ensuing admissions from Messer as to why he first behaved like a cretin; we're left to plug in that plot hole for ourselves.
As for the threat of the other lover (isn't there always at least one?), we never understand why the smitten Holly decides that perfect Dr. Sam (Josh Lucas) isn't "The One." Again, we can assume the reasons on our own dime, but since we're not the ones being paid to write the script, it would be nice to hear from the talent that did.
This is a case where the acting outshines the problematic writing at every turn. Heigl has returned from the lower depths of The Ugly Truth and Killers, back to her earlier, Carole Lombard-like glory. She is appealing and vulnerable, a beautiful klutz. Not only do she and Duhamel get to play for laughs, but they each get the opportunity to explore their quieter, darker sides. The loss of their beloved friends, the frustrations of rearing an adopted child, the fright balanced with relief when the possibility looms that that same child may be taken away.
And Duhamel, far more familiar to audiences as the humorless Major Lennox in the Transformers series, is a rom-com lately. (Avoiding all mention of last January's catastrophic When in Rome. Seriously. Don't mention it.) His easy charm, quick grin and generous demeanor blend with a genuine depth of feeling. The first time his Messer sees baby Sophie after learning of his friends' untimely death, his eyes fill with such emotion that it catches us by surprise.
As for that oft-clucked lack of chemistry: happy to report that here, the heat's on high. These two make a spirited, sparring couple, a delightful duo that may indeed prove to be the best rom-com coupling of 2010. (Sadly, given this year's competition, it's not that much of a contest.)
As for the assortment of supporting cast members, the spotlight shines brightly on the overweight diva neighbor (Melissa McCarthy, speaking with the only credible Atlanta accent in the film), bulldozing her outwardly-obsequious hubby who smiles as he mutters insults under his breath (Andrew Daly), the pushy social worker Janine (Sarah Burns) and the all-knowing 11-year-old babysitter (Britt Flatmo).
Though it won't take your baby's breath away, thanks to Greg Berlanti's energetic direction and the combined efforts of an effervescent cast, Life As We Know It is one of the better rom-coms we've seen this year.
Rating on a scale of 5 infantile ideas: 3
Release date: US: 8 October 2010; UK: 8 October 2010
Directed by: Greg Berlanti
Written by: Ian Deitchman & Kristin Rusk Robinson
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas, Hayes MacArthur, Christina Hendricks, Sarah Burns, Jessica St. Clair, Britt Flatmo, Melissa McCarthy, Andrew Daly
Rating: US = PG-13; UK = 12A
Running time: 112 minutes