Ever watched a film that, just five minutes in, you have planned out entirely in your head? And when you get to the end of the film, you realise that, give or take a little plot machination here or a subtle twist there, you were basically 100 percent correct? I’m sure we all have. But how many of those films do we come out of feeling that it doesn’t really matter? Far fewer, I’d venture to guess.
Life as We Know It opens in that fashion and, aside from an unexpected turn of events fairly early on (the effects of which we shall come to in due course) proceeds more or less along familiar paths. In other words it’s clichéd, formulaic and, with the exception of said ‘event’, predictable. Why then, do I not hate it?
It’s an interesting question. To avoid running the risk of ruining people’s enjoyment of the film, the details of the event in question shall not be given; suffice it say, something unexpectedly tragic happens which defines how the film pans out (those wishing to remain entirely in the dark should read no further). It is remarkable, in fact, that this development somehow fails to scupper the film’s intent: to be a light hearted romantic comedy. What actually happens is that, at the moment of tragedy, the film’s jovial tone takes a swift, sharp leap into weepiness and struggles valiantly to get out again as quickly as possible. After all, it wouldn’t do any good to offend the date-movie crowd looking for a good time. The effect, however, is jarring and, frankly, not handled with a great deal of panache. One scene in particular involving a lawyer, undoubtedly intended to re-establish the film’s comic tract, is particularly cringe-worthy.
But somehow the film manages to overcome this jolt in tone and returns to the way it had started, except that the shadow of the ‘event’ now hangs over everything. The fact that the film rigidly follows many of the genre’s staples in spite of this is occasionally problematic but mostly ignorable, because the film has enough going for it beyond the script to keep us involved. Katherine Heigl gives a good performance as Holly, and whilst playing sexy and sweet is clearly not too difficult for her, she also gets a couple of chances to show a bit more range. Josh Duhamel as her co-lead is fairly generic but does enough not to be annoying.
The presence of Sophie, the child our two protagonists are charged with looking after, gives the film its edge and its emotional core. Risky business, having the plot revolve fundamentally around a third party in the relationship, but this ends up being a positive decision and works in the film’s favour, because whenever it strays into blandness it can quickly recover.
The film is a romantic comedy which isn’t hugely romantic (though there is enough to satisfy rom-com fanatics) and is only sporadically funny, although that is a hell of a lot more than can be said for most Hollywood entries in this genre. The actual comic tone is variable. At times the larger than life supporting characters get some good lines and the two leads deal with the script well, although it has to be said that the film’s few forays into slapstick (mainly in the first half of the film) fall down quite spectacularly, though one incident – involving a nappy-changing debacle – does conjure an amusing one liner. Elsewhere, there is a rather misjudged scene in which our hero ‘chats-up’ the child in a ‘comical’ fashion that aught to cause some grimacing in the audience.
But thankfully the film’s underlying tone of emotional maturity (however hidden it may be) manages to shine through here and there, coming across strongly enough to overshadow any slapstick and missed beats; actually one moment towards the film’s conclusion is genuinely affecting, and pretty much raises this above standard fare on its own.
The film, by its very nature, is dealing with dark, serious ideas in a playful, comic way, which to some might feel forced and unnecessary. Certainly the story is contrived in places and the tone only just manages to resurface after that early plunge, but if you’re willing to go along with it and get involved, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be at least a little charmed.