By Bill Wine
Prim and proper Holly Berenson and worldly womanizer Eric Messer, who appear to have very little in common, have already gone out on a disastrous blind date: everything that could go wrong did. That’s life as they know it.
That evening ended quickly and abruptly, and both of them realized that the married couple who set them up — their mutual best friends, at whose wedding they served as best man and maid of honor — were just too preoccupied bringing up their infant daughter, Sophie, to notice what a severe mismatch these two were.
So, sure, Holly and Messer would later bump into each other at Sophie’s birthday parties, given that they are her godparents. But at least everyone else could just let go of any idea that they should be seeing each other: after all, two people couldn’t be any more hopelessly incompatible.
In this opposites-attract romantic comedy, Life As We Know It, after the setup described above these two are summoned by the police and told that their married friends have been tragically killed in an automobile accident and that the two of them have been named in their will as sharing joint custody of Sophie and are thus in charge of the orphaned child’s upbringing.
So the two of them, who have fallen deeply in loathe, leave their lives and careers behind and move under Sophie’s roof in Atlanta, where they set up a cooperative system of housekeeping and child-rearing, and take a page or two out of “Parenting for Dummies.”
Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel are well matched, even if their characters are not, as caterer Holly and TV-sports technical director Messer in a movie that may be easy to predict in terms of its outcome, but that is eminently watchable because the screenplay, despite the extraordinary circumstances involved, remains anchored in recognizable reality.
The director, Greg Berlanti (The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy), manages to layer his comedy more than we have come to expect in the genre, and the screenplay by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson conjures a few laughs, many smiles, and plenty of oohs and aahs.
Perhaps most important, the two lead performers, who emerged from television stardom, are natural and likable, and they manage to make their characters relatively and recognizably real, even when the script is putting them through their generically outlandish paces.
Heigl (who, interestingly, also served as an executive producer along with her mother, Nancy) is trying to update her big-screen persona and get the bad taste of several recent missteps (27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth, Killers) that followed her triumph in Knocked Up out of her audience’s minds.
And Duhamel, a natural performer with a graceful touch for light comedy, is trying to establish a leading-man image after making solid but quiet contributions to Ramona and Beezus and When In Rome.
It’s baby-steps progress for each of them, but progress nonetheless.
At times, given the characters the two leads play and their brand and style of chemistry, Life As We Know It proceeds like an updated Doris Day-Rock Hudson romp, with the extra-added winning ingredient of five little girls (twins and triplets) playing Sophie at various stages, charming the audience with their irresistible cuteness.
So we’ll raise 2½ stars out of 4. Life As We Know It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but this pleasant caregiving heartwarmer is a romcom as we know it. And like it.