10 October 2010 | jon.h.ochiai
Becoming A Family
"Life as We Know It" is predictable. Not breaking news. 3 years ago Josh Duhamel as Messer and Katherine Heigl as Holly have a set up date by their best friends Peter and Alison (Hayes MacArthur and Christina Hendricks) that terminates in Holly's Smart Car. Holly despises Messer way too much. Life happens and tragedy unfolds. Peter and Alison die in a car accident. In their will, unbeknownst to Messer and Holly, the Novaks' name them as legal guardians to their 1 year-old daughter Sophie. Reluctantly, Messer and Holly agree to move into the Novaks' house, and raise Sophie until they can figure this out. Did Alison and Peter know something that Holly and Messer were clueless to? Do they fall in love, and transform into loving parents?
Come on, we're smart and have seen our share of romantic comedies. Narrative surprise is not the strong suit of Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson's screenplay. In spite of all this, "Life as We Know It" is touching romantic comedy. Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel are awesome, and have a natural chemistry. Deitchman and Robinson's story strongly evolves. Director Greg Berlanti expertly orchestrates the right tone. Although, "Life" is romantic comedy, the set up is heart wrenching tragedy. The future of orphaned Sophie (played by Brooke and Kiley Liddell) hangs in the balance of whether Heigl and Duhamel can get over themselves. Heigl has a charming vulnerability and authenticity as Holly, who has dreams of expanding her bakeshop and dearly misses Alison, her personal rock. Duhamel is a nice surprise. He casually inhabits Messer, the Player who really has a big heart, by the numbers. However, Duhamel never overplays, embodying humanity and humor. With Duhamel we cheer for Messer's transformation. At the story arc, he confesses to Heigl, "Together
Somehow we're a family."
At times we're smarter than the screenplay. From the beginning we see through Messer's jerk facade, and distinguish the good man that he is and great guy he can be. Holly is too obsessed being annoyed, to see the obvious. Fortunately, Heigl and Duhamel are smarter than the script—hinting at the underlying love Holly and Messer have always had. Chemistry conquers a lot. Validation comes when Baby Whisperer Amy (great Britt Flatmo) says, "You guys make an awesome couple." Listen to the 12 year-old. Heigl and Duhamel are an amazing looking couple that has a very comfortable feel.
What Berlanti does well is populate "Life" with quirky supporting characters and nominal narrative twists. Melissa McCarthy is good as the seen-it-all Mom DeeDee. Andrew Daly and Bill Brochtrup are funny as the gay parents Scott and Gary, who faun over the strikingly handsome Duhamel. Sarah Burns is awesome as the social worker Janine Groff, who warns Holly and Messer about complicating their relationship. Burns is hysterically touching as she becomes their biggest advocate. Brooke and Kiley Liddell are priceless as Sophie. Though hers is not really a performance, she is just being. There are the formulae high jinx with baby poop and babysitting duty. Conflict is manufactured. Messer is offered the sports TV director slot for the Phoenix Suns, which would displace him from home in Atlanta. Holly starts a relationship with solid Sam (down home charming Josh Lucas), Sophie's pediatrician. Life is diverging.
Here in "Life as We Know It" there is an upside to predictability. We cheer for Holly, Messer, and Sophie, because we see before they do: They are a family. Heigl and Duhamel are awesome, apart or together. They overcome a lot of the formulae. Being predictable is overrated, when you have great heart like "Life as We Know It".