Life As We Know It (2010)
There are a lot of things that can make me cry while watching a movie. When I saw Return of the Jedi for the first time in the theaters, the climactic battle between the Ewoks and the Imperial soldiers traumatized me because the little innocent fuzzy creatures who didn’t really undertand about war were dying. (Of course as an adult, I have to wonder exactly what that very large net was supposed to catch, and what the Ewoks were gonna do with whatever they usually catch.)
Now that I understand what real pain, heartbreak and loss are, whenever I sense the real thing in a movie, it will instantly reduce me to tears even faster than before. One such moment came early during the preview screening of Life As We Know It, and it affected how I viewed the whole movie.
Directed by TV producer Greg Berlanti (“Everwood,” “Brothers & Sisters,” and “No Ordinary Family,” amongst others), the the plot behind Life is that singletons Holly (Katherine Heigl) and Messer (Josh Duhamel) who were originally set up by their engaged best friends have a hate-hate relationship which begain on that disastrous blind date. Even as we watch them get thrown together at various social gatherings which revolve around Peter and Alison Novak (played by Hayes MacArthur and Christina Hendricks), it’s clear that they will never like each other, and will only tolerate the other’s presence because of the people in their lives that they share.
Of course, all of this changes when the Novaks die in a horrible car accident while they’re on a date and their one-year old daughter Sophie is at home. Now, as the baby’s godparents and her legal guardian, Holly and Messer both have to learn about what it’s like to be parents and perhaps get along a little in the meantime.
For their first time on the big screen, writing partners Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson had their work cut out for them. How do you make a romantic comedy out of a movie which kills two of its more likable cast members to end the first act? How do you portray the loss of two people who were very important to your protagonist characters without wallowing too much into melodrama?
It is in answering this second question that I recognize the veracity of the emotions portrayed in their scripting. The scene I’m speaking of in particular revolves around Holly, who in a panic when Sophie is sick, takes her to the pediatrician, who also happens to be a cute bakery customer of hers. I forget the question he asked, but her response was pretty dead-on (to me, at least) to the amount of pure pain that envelops you when someone you loved is dead.
Her feelings come out in a torrent, overwhelming her and causing her to say things that she probably wouldn’t say in front of someone on whom she wants to impress (which she does). She feels guilt over their deaths, and I sensed some anger that they were dead, and more than a little bit of angst over the fact that she was alive to raise their child and they were not.
Guilt mixed with grief is something with which I’m intimately familiar, and Heigl hit all the notes so well that I found myself welling up with sympathetic pain. And thinking of my deceased friend, I started to attempt to place myself in Holly’s shoes throughout the rest of the movie, and the character never again found those sympathetic notes.
As for Josh Duhamel’s Messer, I found myself siding with him in this battle of the genders, especially towards the end of the movie when he has to make a decision between advancing his career and maintaining his relationships with Sophie and Holly. (If you can’t guess that he eventually repairs those relationships, you probably don’t watch many standard romantic comedies.) That, too, is perhaps the only time I felt a bit of real sympathy for the character because the one time he was allowed to show the same kind of grief as Heigl’s scene in the pediatrician’s office, it was expressed in such a ham-handed way, complete with the “sad piano” in the background to underscore the moment.
I can’t talk about MacArthur and Hendricks as the Novaks because they’re not in the film long enough for me to get a sense of who they were and exactly why they thought that Holly and Messer should get together. (No, I don’t agree with the in-movie reasoning, either.) I can’t talk about Holly and Messer’s other friends because it doesn’t appear as if they have any friends other than their neighbors-with-kidswho are there to act as a funny Greek chorus.
Whatever props I am giving to writers Deitchman and Robinson for including a gay couple raising a child in that Greek chorus due to the fact that Atlanta has the third largest LGBT population in the U.S. is immediately taken away by the fact that for a city whose population is over 55% black, there are no African-Americans amongst Holly and Messer’s friends. Sure, there’s the guy who works for Holly as her sous-chef, but he’s given such little personality that he doesn’t count, and neither does Messer’s African-American cab driver and reluctant nanny.
It’s because of these flaws and the fact that for some reason, I just couldn’t commit to liking either Holly or Messer that I have to say that this was only a mediocre movie, not even worth the amount of time it would take you to download it.
According to Life as We Know It the only times adults should watch “The Wiggles” are when they have kids or are stoned. Maybe even both.