Life As We Know It seems to promise something a little different in the romantic comedy mold, from the blatantly tragic set-up involving a car crash to the fact that a baby, a real-live baby, will be a central character in the piece. It's almost enough to make you reconsider a vehicle with Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, two actors who have made a lot of money establishing themselves as types you'd never want to spend actual time with-- she uptight and harsh, he lazily handsome, neither anyone resembling people you know.
Unfortunately they're playing off those types through every minute of Life As We Know It, and combined with the messy script from Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson and the scrubbed-up glowy romantic comedy world that director Greg Berlanti builds, the whole thing feels like a mush of familiar tropes and hamfisted attempts at originality. There's a cute kid, a handful of laughs and the occasional genuine romantic spark, but nothing that actually cashes in on the potential of the agreeably out-there premise.
Holly (Heigl) and Messer (Duhamel) meet very un-cute on a blind date arranged by mutual best friends before the credits, but once those friends get married and pop out and adorable baby, the two are forced to grin and bear it while in the company of their new goddaughter. Then, of course, the kid's parents die and leave the child-rearing to Holly, the kind of type-A career woman who has secretly always wanted a kid and a giant house, and Messer, a handsome good-for-nothing who wants pretty much the opposite. You get time to shed a single tear for the premature loss of Hayes MacArthur and (unforgivable!) Christina Hendricks before Holly and Messer move into their giant house, learn how to change diapers, and turn into parents despite still loathing each other.
They're going to fall in love, of course, but in the meantime Holly flirts with a cute pediatrician (Josh Lucas) who's far more worth her time, Messer sleeps with random hotties, and both try to focus on their careers in a laughable attempt to carry on their lives as before. Because this is a comedy there are plenty of comic set pieces shoehorned in, from the "poop on the face" diaper mishap teased endlessly in trailers to an evening of bonding over pot brownies, which of course is followed up by an early morning surprise visit from a social worker. Yes, this is that kind of movie, where coincidences drive the plot forward and no one responds to the realities of life with anything resembling adult logic. If they did that, of course, Holly and Messer would get together the minute they moved into the house together, but then we would have no movie to sit through for nearly two hours (that feel far longer).
Berlanti gets credit for having some fun within the circumscribed romantic comedy world, pulling weirdly compelling performances out of the triplets playing baby Sophie and allowing a bevy of Southern-accented neighbors to comment on Holly and Messer's budding relationship (even if the script gives them little more to do than stand around and chatter like an idle Greek chorus). But he's working constantly against his actors, who seem so determined to stick to their prescribed star personas that the supposed revelations had by each character at the end feel even more false than usual. It's enough to make me give up on Heigl, an actress I always want to admire for her strong opinions and remarkable power in Hollywood, but who is so relentlessly harsh and unlikeable in all of her roles that she's become an entire unpleasant subgenre of her own: the romantic comedy for shrews.
There are bones of something worth saving in Life As We Know It, which might have succeeded with different actors, a script relying on less hackneyed comedic situations, or even an extra dose of realism in its soft-lit, Crate and Barrel world. But alas, those of us hoping for another great studio romantic comedy are just left to fold our arms, sit back and grumble that it's all been downhill since Love Actually. It's almost worse than an outright disaster to see something like LIfe As We Know It aspire to be something better and fall so flat.