Sometimes in life, events unfold that take you by surprise: people die unexpectedly, an unwanted responsibility lands in your hands, people fall in love despite the odds and, every now and then a movie that promises to be an absolute car wreck, actually isn’t.
Incidentally, Life as We Know It sees a tragic car accident take the lives of a baby girl’s young and rich parents, leaving the premise of this film to their inadequate best friends who try to fill their shoes for the sake of orphaned little Sophie. In a predictable but strangely likeable unfolding of events the couple’s best friends, Holly Berensen (Katherine Heigl; Killers) and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel; Transformers 2) hate each other with a passion, but bottle their mutual disdain when its forced aside and they begrudgingly unite under the same roof in grief and responsibility, to mourn their friends and look after the baby they left behind.
At this time of the year this movie had potential to take one of three paths – to get deep and emotional and vie for Oscar contention, to fall flat without true heart or humour or, to take audiences by surprise with sadness and laughter and unfold one of the best popcorn stories of the season. Thankfully, careful direction by feature film sophomore Greg Berlanti follows a tight screenplay by first-timers Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, to deliver an unconventional romantic-comedy-baby-story that leaves the likes of The Back-Up Plan to be thrown out with the bath water.
When tragedy strikes, Holly is already a motivated and strategic planner with her life goals defined and her eye on a hunky paediatrician named Sam (Josh Lucas). Messer is a carefree Romeo, an all-American lover of all things related to sports, females and machines with two wheels. As each tries to adapt to the post-humus demands bestowed upon them, some truly funny moments ensue. A stand out supporting cast that includes various weirdo neighbourhood couples, a teenaged babysitter with all the insight and answers, and an over emotional social worker truly add to the story’s originality. The friendly gay dads really make the oddball pack, and their musings on domestic life are classic when combined with their shared desire for the man candy next door that is Josh Duhamel.
As Holly and Messer learn the ropes of unplanned parenthood and fall under the spell of the cheeky one-year-old, their do-it-for-Sophie attitude is complicated by the conventional realities of their individual personalities, their personal sacrifices, family economics and shitty nappies. With the world pulling at the pair from different directions, they get angry with each other and with their friends since passed, for leaving them in such a mess. Without giving too much away, both Holly and Messer meet conflict that forces them to think beyond themselves, ensuring that the characters they become in resolution are products of a demanding journey we can feel like we have experienced right alongside them – in sadness, hilarity and love.
A great soundtrack has Roberta Flack singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”, Heigl’s husband Josh Kelly singing “Tidal Wave” and even a cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Taken By Trees. If you’re a Ray Lamontagne fan, one of his tracks makes a sweet cameo as well. Hands down though, the highlight of the movie occurs when Messer sings baby Sophie a lullaby in the form of Radiohead’s infamous “Creep”, the mere reaction of Heigl’s character being worth the price of admission.
When it comes to the conventions of a romantic comedy, death is usually the last common instigator to spawn a new love between unlikely partners. Luckily for Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl, the tragedy makes way for a series of events that set a new standard for both romance and comedy – at least in Katherine Heigl movies. Despite their distinct differences both Holly and Messer are down-to-earth and likeable, so that when the predictable finally happens, moments of eye-rolling are kept to a minimum.
Excusing the pretentious title, this movie makes a good way to laugh – and sing- your way through a couple of hours. The soundtrack is almost as cute and well suited as Juno.