Life As We Know It

Duhamel rules the roost but it just isn't enough.

There have been plenty of loony romantic comedies this year – about bounty hunters, killers and semen swaps – but none as glaringly absurd as Life as Know It, a film that astoundingly is not as bad as its stupid premise suggests, but it nevertheless finds itself hamstrung by its own insistent implausibility.

When baker Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) is set-up on a blind date with the irrepressibly crass Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel), the results are expectedly disastrous. The date leads to nothing, and the only common ground they share is that they are both godparents to the child of their mutual friends (who set them up on the date in the first place). When their friends are killed in a car accident, it is revealed that their wishes were for Sophie to be raised by Holly and Eric. Thus (ridiculously), they decide to live together in Sophie’s family home (in separate beds, mind), while trying to raise her and cope with juggling their own professional commitments and social lives.

Life as We Know It is a film so brazenly unrealistic – despite, importantly, being rooted in a firmly, dramatically real world – that it can be characterised as either exceptionally brave, or mind-numbingly stupid. The breakdown is that it is a bit of both; it bravely confronts a difficult subject while facing the momentous task of explaining why these two people would ever live together, yet it is also an idiotic move to place characters in this utterly unbelievable situation in the first place. That the end result is at all tolerable is a massive testament to the charm of the cast – especially Duhamel – but the screenplay still strains to adequately explain away its risibly far-fetched premise, instead insisting comfortably upon predictable rom-com cliches.

A huge part of the film’s problem is that so much time is devoted to trying to render this farcical situation believable that not much is left for dramatic potency or decent characterisation. There is an alienating aspect to how aggressively the film tries to acquit itself from its concept, slipping in snide lines of dialogue to explain why Holly and Eric absolutely have to live together. At every logical turn, an oh-so-convenient spanner is thrown in the works, to head-smackingly convoluted effect. Were the film not so keen to apologise for itself, then there would be no reason for it to run in at an unreasonably long 115 minutes.

Amid all the self-serious drama and rote potty jokes, there is Josh Duhamel, the crux around which everything good and funny about this film revolves. He takes the whole situation with a deer-in-the-headlights incredulity that just about keeps things watchable, while Heigl reiterates the same uptight woman she has played in just about everything since Knocked Up, to considerably unfunny effect. Still, even his charmful interactions with the cute child character are not enough to triumph over the script, which is platitude-laced and boiling over with contradictions, stretching so awkwardly for pathos that it abandons all regard for coherence and logic. For instance, when first confronted with the prospect of handling their deceased friends’ bills, they both note that they are in financial straits, only for Messer to later announce that he has a bundle of savings with which he then helps Holly expand her bakery. Sense is a luxury employed only when the film finds it convenient, and that is not often enough.

Following a protracted airport chase in the final reel (that is a tiny bit subversive if still utterly recycled), the film seems to arrive at a natural, pragmatic solution. However, of course, it isn’t over yet, and a slushier, unearned “happy” ending soon enough arrives, dispensing with Holly’s new beau (played here well by Josh Lucas) with little regard for emotion or morals, instead expecting us to cheer rapturously for the reconnection of two characters who we, in all likelihood, never really cared about getting together in the first place. Given the film’s fairly edgy, death-rooted premise, such a dull, by-the-book ending feels like a betrayal.

In the interest of fairness, Life as We Know It is nowhere near as bad as it should be on the weakness of its horrid premise. Duhamel wrings a few laughs from the script, and there are a few other good performances (Sarah Burns is especially fun as the social worker assigned to Sophie), but it fails to overcome the massive suspension of disbelief required to buy into its concept, and thus falls flat, albeit not as flat as expected.


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