*Life As We Know It (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Life As We Know It knows how to take serious things seriously. Despite the presence of Katherine Heigl, director Greg Berlanti's film is more drama than romantic comedy, and a good one at that. The plot's not the only thing that offers the unexpected.
The film does begin with typical Heigl-ity. She plays Holly, a Type A caterer who's scrambling through her closet of at least 27 dresses until she finds the tightest wrap and the highest heels. Then she waits. When her blind date Eric (Josh Duhamel) shows up, he's an hour late, wearing a baseball cap, and expects her to hop on his hog to go to a restaurant at which he didn't make reservations. Holly insists on driving instead, but when Eric takes an obvious booty call and immediately says, "Really?" when she suggests they don't have to go through with their mutual friends' setup, they get huffy and declare themselves enemies for life.
Cut to a couple of years later, when their besties Peter and Alison (Hayes MacArthur and Christina Hendricks) get married and have a baby. Through each of the milestones up until baby Sophie's first birthday, Holly and Eric are shown fighting. So it's a bit of a shock when the happy couple die in a car accident and leave custody of Sophie to the two people who can't stand each other. Hijinks will surely ensue, right?
Mercifully, there are hardly any at all. The story quickly forgets its wacky introduction and never brushes off the devastating turn of events. Peter and Alison's deaths are handled with understated taste — and are all the more gut-wrenching for it — and the needs of darling Sophie are kept in the foreground. Holly and Eric, after the requisite wha-wha-what? moment in which they hear the news of their new responsibility, don't whine or bicker. Yes, they doubt their ability to make this work. No, they're not happy about their lives being upended, or about co-parenting with someone they don't get along with.
But when Sophie is hungry or needs to be changed, it's all about her, even if the changing prompts gagging and remarks such as, "It's like Slumdog Millionaire!" This is, after all, a comedy as well, but the jokes tend to be dry and original and help the whole baby business to be cute instead of cloying. The romantic angle has to play out, too, but here the baby isn't as much of a roadblock as Sam (Josh Lucas), a handsome pediatrician whom Holly meets at her bistro the day of her friends' death. Of course, rom-com rules require that they meet again afterward and get along quite swell. Of course, Eric is a little jealous. And with both Holly and Eric devoted to their careers — Eric is in broadcast sports — some crazy schemes are hatched to smooth over schedule conflicts.
Hey, this film may not be exactly what you're expecting, but the filmmakers and the marketing campaign can't completely ignore the carrots they dangle. Life As We Know It is both feel-sad and feel-good, which is a tricky balance to achieve yet one that's so satisfying when the right marks are hit. "Hit" is not a word our stars may be used to when it comes to the big screen, but this movie might change that.