A bad movie is a bad movie, no matter what it’s about or what you call it. In 2004, Garry Marshall directed Raising Helen, the story of a free and breezy woman who, suddenly and against her will, becomes guardian to three young kids when her sister and brother-in-law die in a car crash. It was manipulative, saccharine and sappy.
Now we’ve got Life as We Know It, in which two people have a disastrous blind date, set up by mutual friends who have a young daughter. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a car crash, and guess which two godparents are court-ordered to become joint guardians of little Sophie even though they can’t stand each other?
Don’t scriptwriters read or even hear about other people’s scripts? Well, at least this one has some good comic timing and lots of fast banter from its two leads, Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl. They play Messer, whose dating life is so active he probably has trouble remembering names, and Holly, who’s constantly being fixed up with dead-end dates. The deal here is that they’re given Sophie’s parents’ house and told they must live there together, even if they sleep in different rooms.
Their troubles begin quickly, as do the film’s.
The director and writers can’t seem to figure out if they’ve got a romantic comedy or a dramatic romantic comedy.
Everything is all light and bubbly — then, in the blink of an eye, or the ring of a phone, it all goes tragic. Holly runs a small café and is trying, without success, to expand the business. Messer is a technical director on basketball broadcasts who wants to climb the ladder but is regularly overlooked. The idea of parenting hasn’t entered their minds.
Then there’s the happy little 1-year-old who’s always ready to shift into tantrum mode. (And among the triplets swapped in and out of the role, the filmmakers have found one heck of a screecher.) But wait, don’t forget the bad relationship between Holly and Messer, neither of whom is the least bit knowledgeable about or capable of taking care of a baby. Their squabbles about what to do with and for her are louder than Sophie’s screams. In one funny line, a neighbor notes with admiration, “If my wife and I fought like that, we’d still be married.”
But all of the noise emanating from the film becomes tiring to watch and hear; eventually, it gets to annoying status. Even worse is that the story keeps veering onto different tracks. The handsome fellow (Josh Lucas) who pays daily visits to Holly’s bakery isn’t there just for the coffee. Oh my, what a coincidence! He turns out to be a pediatrician, and soon he and Holly are making googly eyes at each other.
Now a savvy moviegoer would think, “Come on, I know how this is going to turn out. There’ll be some jealousy and then the godparents will really see each other for the first time and then….” But lordy, there are so many roadblocks along the way. There’s all that bickering and the abundant vomit and poop jokes and, this being rated PG-13, there’s just gotta be some way to work in a bit about pot brownies.
This is a movie that just feels out of control. It has too many ups and downs in moods, too many side stories scattered left and right. And it features a genuine feeling that although these two people love the little girl and want to do the right thing, they have no clue how to go about it.
It’s partly funny, partly serious, and mostly a mess.