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Life as We Know It, in contrast, knows how to take serious things seriously. Despite the presence of Katherine Heigl, director Greg Berlanti’s second film is more drama than romantic comedy—and a good drama at that. The plot’s not the only thing that offers something unexpected.
The film does begin with some typical Heiglisms. She plays Holly, a Type-A caterer who’s scrambling through her closet of at least 27 dresses until she finds the tightest wrap and the highest heels. Then she waits. When her blind date, Eric (Josh Duhamel), shows up, he’s an hour late. When Eric takes an obvious booty call and responds, “Really?” when Holly suggests they don’t have to go through with their mutual friends’ setup, they both get huffy and pretty much declare themselves Enemies for Life.
Cut to a couple of years later, when their besties Peter and Alison (Hayes MacArthur and Christina Hendricks) get married and have a baby. Through each of the milestones up until baby Sophie’s first birthday, Holly and Eric are shown fighting. So it’s a bit of a shock—though not so surprising in Movieland—when the happy couple dies in a car accident and leave custody of Sophie to the two people who can’t stand each other. Hijinks will surely ensue, right?
Mercifully, there are hardly any at all. First-time scripters Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rush Robinson deliver a story that quickly forgets its wacky introduction yet never brushes off the devastating turn of events that truly sets the plot in motion. Peter and Alison’s deaths are handled with understated taste—and are all the more gut-wrenching for it—and the needs of darling Sophie (played by triplets Brynn, Brooke, and Alexis Clagett) are kept in the foreground. Holly and Eric, after the requisite wha-wha-what? moment in which they learn of their new responsibility, don’t whine or bicker over stupid shit. Yes, they doubt they can make their situation work. No, they’re not happy about the upending of their lives.
But when Sophie is hungry or needs to be changed, it’s all about her, even if said changing elicits gagging and lines such as, “It’s like Slumdog Millionaire!” This is, after all, a comedy, but the jokes are generally dry and original and help the whole baby business be cute instead of cloying.
The romantic angle has to play out, too, but here the baby isn’t as much of a roadblock as Sam (Josh Lucas), a handsome pediatrician whom Holly meets at her bistro the day of her friends’ death. Of course, rom-com rules require that they meet again afterward, and get along quite swell. Of course, Eric is a little jealous. And with both Holly and Eric devoted to their careers (Eric works in broadcast sports and is eyeing a promotion), some crazy schemes will be hatched to smooth over the bumps in their schedules.
Hey, this film may not be exactly what you’re expecting, but the filmmakers and the marketing campaign can’t completely ignore the carrots they dangle. Life as We Know It is both feel-sad and feel-good, which is a tricky balance yet one that’s so satisfying when the film hits the right marks. “Hit” is not a word our stars may be used to when it comes to the big screen—at least not critical ones, anyway—but this movie may change that.