Review: In ‘Life,’ death and parenting, poop happens
October 7, 2010
The movie’s name is “Life As We Know It,” but that seems incomplete. The predicate’s missing. As anyone who’s ever had a kid already knows, the full sentence is “Life as we know it is over,” i.e., nuked by the sudden and irreversible arrival of a human infant.
And that pretty much sums up the film. Its marketing campaign suggests a certain amount of comedy, and its triangulated stars imply a certain amount of romance, but both the comedy and the romance hinge on poop, puke, sleep deprivation, more poop and bouts of fussy eating accompanied by piercing screams. As one who’s given birth a few times, I can appreciate that smear on Katherine Heigl’s face; truly, no film about rearing a 1-year-old would be complete without a spot or two of misplaced fecal matter. But you should know what you’re in for at the start.
Directed by Greg Berlanti from a screenplay by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, “Life As We Know It” stars Heigl and Josh Duhamel as battling Atlanta godparents tapped to raise adorable moppet Sophie (played by Clagett triplets Brooke, Brynn and Alexis) after her parents (Hayes MacArthur and “Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks) die in a car crash. By this mechanism they’re tossed into the maelstrom of pureed food and large plastic objects that swirls through early childhood.
The added twist, naturally, is that Heigl’s character and Duhamel’s loathe each other. Heigl’s Holly is a buttoned-down businesswoman who owns and runs a hipster bakery – the occupation du jour among rom-com heroines these days – while Duhamel’s Messer is an unrepentant Lothario who dotes on Sophie but dislikes the way she cramps his lovin’ style. The standardized format for such plots requires a third wheel, in this case Josh Lucas as a spiffy, sweet and unnaturally passive pediatrician who might have been portrayed by Ralph Bellamy back in the day.
Heigl is an old hand at super-neurotic lonelyhearts, but she seems to lack conviction this time. Duhamel, an easy fit in playboy roles, has lately sported the fuzzy domestic aura of an actor looking to soften his M.O. But the toned-down shtick on both their parts is more a function of the movie’s baby-centric plotline than any problems with chemistry between them. They sputter nicely together, whipping up a believable, fizzy charm that almost distracts us from the canned predictability of the script.
Still. The poop. Berlanti’s movie takes on two of the sloppiest and least-forgiving topics in all of film – grief, then babies – and it does so whole-heartedly, with a mild touch and an almost reportorial attention to detail. That said, the ins and outs of a child’s alimentary canal don’t make for breathtaking cinematic excitement, even with breaks for grocery store runs. Watching Duhamel and Heigl discover the joys and pains of parenthood is cute as far as it goes, but their story can’t progress too far until the kid is out of diapers. And by then, “Life As We Know It” is over.