MOVIE REVIEW: Life As We Know It
LIFE AS WE KNOW IT-- 2 STARS
There are two kinds of formula going on in Life As We Know It. The one for babies and the one for scripts. Both are a little bland and a little vanilla. Both try to stay a little warm, and both are a little predictable. Like milk itself, what you see in Life As We Know It is what you get. When you see Josh Duhamel, you're getting a "man's man" who's taking some time off from chasing Decepticons and turning on his Las Vegas charm. When you see Katherine Heigl, well, you get the exact same beautiful, yet annoyingly neurotic character she plays every single time you see her (Grey's Anatomy, Killers, The Ugly Truth, etc.). Finally, if you've seen one baby joke, you've kind of seen them all.
It's a shame too, because the concept and set-up of Life As We Know It is extremely intriguing and original territory for a romantic comedy. We meet our characters, Messer (yes, that's his name) and Holly, years earlier set-up by their mutual best friends, Allison (Mad Men's Christina Hendricks) and Peter (The Game Plan's Hayes MacArthur), on a blind date. The date is a disaster and never makes it past unparking the car. They go on over the years to constantly bicker and hate each other, as Allison and Peter marry and have a daughter, Sophie. Then the curveball comes when Allison and Peter are killed off-screen in a car accident and leave the guardianship of Sophie with those same mutual best friends who hate each other.
You don't see too many romantic comedies attempt, or even survive, such a dark turn of events. It's hard to get your audience back to laugh and smile once you've brought the tissue box out on them in the first 20 minutes. Pixar's Up had the gumption in its exquisite "married life" montage to characterize loss, death, and mourning in a kid's film. It masterfully recovered to make for one of the best films of last year. With people and not pixels, the under-appreciated, underrated, and Chicago-set Return to Me with Minnie Driver and David Duchovny did it the best in 2000 with humor and charm involving a heart transplant.
Life As We Know It gets ambitious credit for taking on the loss and vulnerability that most romantic comedies stay away from. However, once our hated main characters, start their guardianship, the formulaic plot devices take over. As stated before, once you've seen one baby gag, you've seen them all. It's here that Life As We Know It stops breaking ground. Even in movies, let alone real life, we've seen babies not cooperate eating, have accidents and smelly diapers, and produce sleepless would-be parents. It's nothing new. We've seen an alpha-male heart, through manly unconventional parenting, soften to become a father before. We've seen a high-strung career woman loosen up, let go, and change into a mother before. We've seen love-hate friends become attracted to each other when their guards are let down and their true selves come out. The list goes on.
Nothing is new and that's the loss after a promising concept and start from Life As We Know It. Poor Josh Lucas, with his down home charm eight years now after Sweet Home Alabama, is stuck the same boring, sweater-clad, doctor love-interest role that Keanu Reeves was stuck with in Somethings Gotta Give. It's a thankless part and a paycheck.
Real-life parents will likely watch this movie and talk about how easy the movie characters have it with their big house and endless amenities and income streams, despite the supposed appearance of stress and hardship. They're not going to find it believable. Sure, Life As We Know It has it's laughs, moments, and sincere touches. Duhamel is perfectly cast to play the evolving "himbo" jock and Heigl is always easy on the eyes, but everything is completely scripted and mostly predictable.
LESSON #1: THE IMPORTANCE OF GODPARENTS-- While the practice of godparents might be a fading Catholic tradition, it still has its purpose and reason for being. Whether you make it official like the church does or do it through paperwork and a lawyer, parents should have a plan for the worst case scenario and the just-in-case, for the sake of their child's future. Those parents should make sound and thought-out choices as to who can best help and raise their child. Having a plan beats involving courts, foster families, and child/family services.
LESSON #2: ASKING FOR HELP DOESN'T MEAN YOU'VE FAILED, IT'S THAT YOU WON'T BE DOING IT ALONE-- This is arguably the line of the movie delivered by Duhamel, and it is a great positive way of looking at a desperate situation. Accepting when it's time to ask for help is a big step.
LESSON #3: DON'T OVERREACT TO LITTLE THINGS-- This one is easier said than done, but a by-product to a love-hate relationship is overreacting to small mistakes, differences, and misunderstandings. Don't make a mountain out of a mole-hill. You would think this lesson is pinned to the neurotic, worrying Holly character, but our man Messer overreacts to little things just as much.
LESSON #4: MAKING GROWN-UP DECISIONS WHEN YOU HAVE TO-- Our curveball twist in Life As We Know It, forces two single adults not in a relationship to change their lives, hold off their careers, and put themselves and their differences aside to raise a child. While those decisions are truly daunting, they absolutely have to be done because family and parenting is more important than any other job or conquest. To do so takes courage and commitment.