So to Heigl's latest Life As We Know It, a timid toe-dip into semi-dramatic waters that finds her pairing up with Josh Duhamel to take care of the orphaned daughter of their mutual friends Allison (Mad Men's Christina Hendricks) and Peter (Hayes MacArthur). The comedic safety net is still there, but the role requires Heigl to show a bit more range than usual. She plays Holly, a career girl who we meet as she's about to go on a first date with Eric Messer (Duhamel). Their hook-up, engineered by Allison and Peter, is a disaster and they take an immediate dislike to each other. Holly is uptight and guarded, while Messer (he favours the surname) is a fun-loving, womanising rogue. When tragedy strikes, they're forced to put differences aside to take care of baby Sophie, eventually learning to like then love each other and yada yada yada...
The story is hardly startlingly original, in fact it's essentially a chick flick rendition of Knocked Up about personal growth through the acceptance of responsibility. The added layer of grief and reluctant parenthood adds something extra to the mix, although these dramatic elements land awkwardly in what boils down to a fairly standard rom-com offering. Director Berlanti has roots in TV (Brothers & Sisters and No Ordinary Family are among his credits), perhaps accounting for Life's small-screen, episodic feel. It's never completely opened up for the big screen; a season on TV might have served it better. Berlanti crams in cliché after cliché and isn't able to manage the change-ups from baby poo gags to emotional breakdowns and impacting drama. The casualness with which it uses death (then tosses that aside to aim for the funny bone) as a narrative catalyst leaves something of an unpleasant feel, too.
Despite Life's schizophrenic approach, Heigl and Duhamel hit the mark and strike up an easy rapport, making them a pleasant enough pair to spend two hours with. Don't expect the film to leave a lasting impression, though, it's as shallow as they come. As a final aside, does anyone else find it amusing how character occupations in rom-coms are getting increasingly obscure and ridiculous? Sure, it's a quick shortcut to inject a bit of face-value originality, but when she's a pastry shop owner and he directs live sports broadcasts it's all getting slightly silly, no? It's not quite on the level of Aniston's Management - which includes a travelling saleswoman and yoghurt mogul - but at least they tried!
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