Friday, October 08, 2010

Life as We Know It

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT (Greg Berlanti, 2010)

In LIFE AS WE KNOW IT married couple Peter and Alison Novak (Hayes MacArthur and Christina Hendricks) try to set up their best friends with each other, but the disastrous first date between Holly Berenson and Eric Messer (Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel) assures there won’t be a love connection in the near future.

During the next couple years Holly and Messer only cross paths when attending their friends’ parties and doting on Peter and Alison’s baby. One day news arrives that Peter and Alison have died in a car accident and left their two single friends with shared custody of their one-year-old Sophie.

Neither Holly nor Messer were aware of the big responsibility their friends were entrusting them with. The love for their friends and orphaned daughter transcends their dislike for one another, so they try their best to raise a child together and live under the same roof.

Reviewing films usually means assessing the stylistic treatment of a subject rather than critiquing the subject itself. LIFE AS WE KNOW IT is a special case where the core idea of the film is as off-putting as the way in which the premise is depicted. When it comes to films featuring characters engaging in controlling behavior from beyond the grave, LIFE AS WE KNOW IT ranks up there with the romance P.S. I LOVE YOU, in which Hilary Swank’s dead husband’s letters dictate her day-to-day life.

Screenwriters Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson set up a scenario in which the loss of two close friends isn’t traumatic enough. Instead the protagonists must also rearrange their entire lives, give up their own places, and become unwitting caretakers to an orphaned child in their deceased friends’ home. No worries, though. It’s all to be accepted because those friends knew these two single people were meant to be together despite all evidence to the contrary.

Director Greg Berlanti’s romantic comedy approach makes LIFE AS WE KNOW IT’S rather repellent set-up even more unpalatable. The cutesy but chemistry-free banter, scenes of playing house, and Holly and Messer’s neighbors finding the situation so adorable are among the major miscalculations in tone.

In fairness, the film doesn’t ignore the strains on the main characters. It simply chalks them up to the worthwhile costs of Holly and Messer getting necessary life makeovers. The film’s comfortable sitcom-like form allows LIFE AS WE KNOW IT to settle into a groove in which the goings-on are taken for granted no matter how deeply dysfunctional this arrangement is. While Sarah Burns’ funny performance as a frazzled social services case worker deserves a better film than this, thankfully she brings the needed acknowledgement of how absurd the basis of it is.

Grade: C-

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