There’s something about Katherine Heigl’s big screen output lately that’s become absolutely intolerable. Once thought to be a bright, sharp young actress, Heigl has settled into making dreadfully grating romantic comedies, pitching her charisma to a female audience seemingly ravenous for tales of flustered love with loathsome/lovable Peter Pan men.
“Life as We Know It” moves Heigl into itchy dramedy territory, pawing motherhood cliches to pull her demographic in tighter. The picture is wheezy wish fulfillment, brutally concentrated on Crayola filmmaking while feeling out utterly unlikable characters who, we’re led to believe, represent a romantic ideal. Phooey.
Perpetual opposites, beer-swillin’ sports fanatic Messer (Josh Duhamel) and prissy baker Holly (Katherine Heigl) are forced to join forces when their mutual friends are killed, leaving behind Sophie, their infant daughter, for the bickering twosome to care for. Attempting to live together under the same roof as a schedule for Sophie’s care is hashed out, Messer and Holly form a tentative friendship, forged over sticky acts of child rearing and periods of chemically enhanced domestic confession. However, as time passes, the demands of sudden parenthood grow more challenging, stressing the fragile relationship, which takes on the extra burden of love once Messer and Holly realize how much they’ve bonded.
It’s difficult not to sound like a bitter heterosexual man while writing a pan of this odious picture, but Heigl (who co-produces) has a way of making modern love feel like a stint inside an iron maiden. “Life as We Know It” is pure fantasy, but the thought of riding this nonsense on a more euphoric wave never occurs to director Greg Berlanti, who instead orders up two hours of banal bickering and ice cold chemistry, making the viewer sit though hoary parenting routines, with every last step punctuated by an adorable baby reaction.
It’s a gelatinous motion picture with no sense of grace, dishing up formula without hesitation, using cheap parenthood punchlines to superficially bond with the core demographic. And if poop and feeding jokes won’t do the trick, Berlanti orders Duhamel to take off his shirt as much as possible and busses in former it-hunk of millennial cinema, Josh Lucas, to twinkle as Holly’s marshmallow-spined love interest — a man who claims fighting is the key to a lasting relationship. I guess that makes Ike Turner the 20th century’s greatest Casanova.
The screenplay by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson is a travesty (Messer’s nickname is Mess, get it?), refusing every opportunity to march in fresh, substantial directions. They’ve churned out pap here, following a strict map of formula to bring Holly and Messer together. Imagine if the characters remained friends, with the movie capturing their efforts to find a happy, platonic medium to the intimacy of parenthood?
The creaky game of love is safer to play, and Berlanti serves up the tripe without hesitation or skill, blasting through some incredibly ill-conceived sequences, including a pot-brownie ingestion evening to warm up the couple, and a fiercely dramatic moment of public separation where Holly and Messer are made up in full feline face paint. Perhaps David Lynch ghost directed that wildly bizarre scene.
Also of overwhelming irritation is the cast, a troupe filled with basic cable comics all competing for screen time, beating each other with improvisational batons. It’s bad enough to watch Duhamel and Heigl flounder for 120 minutes with zero sexual connection, but to have everyone else jump in with their rusted retorts makes an already long film seem endless. It’s like a joke battle royal at times, rendering the film’s sporadically serious tone impossible to trust or endure.
“Life as We Know It” cranks up the gurgles, ironic lullaby music, and a break-up-to-make-up scenario to push down hard on the viewer, attempting to pass insufferably precious behavior off as a traditional romantic-comedy good time. It’s clear Heigl is coasting at this point, once again playing to the rafters for a quick buck, rendering the splendor of love a chore. A profoundly unfunny, sickeningly laborious, likely godless chore.