Silver Screen: Life as We Know It *1/2

Silver Screen: Life as We Know It  *1/2
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Silver Screen: Life as We Know It *1/2
Bryan Miller

Some situations are inherently romantic: a long walk on the beach with a dashing movie critic, a candlelit dinner at dusk at a seaside restaurant with a handsome movie critic, or reposing by a crackling fire on a snowy winter's eve with an arts-and-entertainment writer for an alternative newsweekly. For example.

Some other situations aren't romantic at all. Take plane crashes, for instance. Sure, there's the post-turbulence adrenaline rush and a whole new, sudden set of common interests, but the inevitability of death and the poor overhead lighting ruin the mood. That didn't stop the late, mostly otherwise great Sydney Pollack from making Random Hearts, in which Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas meet after discovering that their respective dead spouses, who die next to one another in the same airline disaster, were having an affair— bonus infidelity!— which sets the sparks a-flying between the widowed. The final result is an awkward, strangely seedy experience.

A similarly bad topic for a romance is young parents who die in a car crash, but that's the catalyst for love in the queasiness-inducing dramedy Life as We Know It, which is paradoxically weird and formulaic.

The icy Katherine Heigl and moderately affable hunk Josh Duhamel costar as the respective best friends of a successful young married couple with a newborn daughter. The new parents try to set their pals up on a date, but Heigl's scold of a chef Holly and Duhamel's clueless charmer Messer fail to hit it off. They get a second chance at love when the new parents perish in an auto accident and leave custody of the girl to their antagonistic friends, stipulating that the two must raise the child in the dead couple's suburban home. It's the kind of wildly unlikely, only-in-the-movies clause in a will that allows a dead tycoon to force his relatives to stage a race around the world to win his fortune.

Holly and Messer comply, move in together, and start parenting a one-year-old with no training or experience. This results in a string of predictable scenes familiar from every parenting-is-hard-but-oh-so-rewarding comedy. (To misquote Paul Thomas Anderson: There will be poop.) This is all highly amusing to the colorful neighbors who pull double duty as quirky-character comic relief and a Greek chorus on the woes of childrearing and marriage.

But of course, the wildly mismatched couple begins to fall for one another, because that's what people with nothing in common do in the movies, and before long there's some tension and then the inevitable epiphany about the relative importance of family and career, and, hey, aren't we about due for a tearful dash to the airport for a heartwarming reunion?

Yes, Life as We Know It actually features a frantic trip to an airport to say one last thing to a loved one. It also features the classic take-your-child-to-work shenanigans, not to mention a slew of family bonding montages and a terrible closing pop song in the credits (in this case, an acoustic version of "Sweet Child of Mine").

Most of what you need to know about the movie is apparent on the promotional poster, which features a beleaguered Heigl struggling after a bediapered baby running in the other direction and drinking from a bottle. Directly behind the baby stands Duhamel in an eerily diaper-like pair of white underwear, walking the same direction and taking a hit from his own bottle— in his case, generic domestic beer. The image speaks for itself, like a war criminal serving as his own attorney in international court.

Heigl's career has mostly been about demonstrating her wide acting range: She can play an ice queen, a buzzkill, a nag, or a control freak. She's pretty much cornered the market on the harpy future girlfriend, and her turn as Holly is no different. She is a little softer-edged here, and she has a decent rapport with Duhamel, who's not asked to do much but does it well enough anyway.

The more compelling Josh Lucas is screwed from the get-go as the movie's Bill Pullman stand-in; take one look at his tasteful sweater and it's clear that Lucas's too-perfect pediatrician suitor is never going to get a girl, at least not one with top billing.

Life as We Know It has enough occasional charm and facility with the familiar elements of romantic dramedies that it's passable for long stretches, but the morbid premise hangs over it like a cloud. TV producer-turned-director Greg Berlanti keeps trying to pay homage to the somber subject matter yet drum up enough levity to focus on the romance, but it's a tricky combination, and the main result is tonal dissonance.