Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) is an up-and-coming caterer and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) is a promising network sports director. After a disatrous first date, the only thing they have in common is their dislike for each other and their love for their goddaughter, Sophie. But when they suddenly become all Sophie has in the world, Holly and Messer are forced to put their differences aside. Juggling career ambitions and competing social calendars, they'll have to find some common ground while living under one roof.

Baby blues for attractive opposites completely predictable.

It’s a simplistic criticism to describe a feature as being a movie-by-numbers, but for the record the parenting romantic comedy Life As We Know It, where Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel play argumentative singles unexpectedly made into a baby’s joint guardians, features the following occurrences: three instances of a baby vomiting on an unprepared adult, two messy nappy gags, and three shots of a baby refusing to eat. Just to balance things out, Duhamel’s shirtless torso is sighted four times and Heigl has three separate bubble-bath visits.

Checklist mentality aside, Greg Berlanti’s feature has the bones of a decent film. Raising a child, under any terms, is a profound and humourous experience, although Life As We Know It has to cover some convoluted narrative ground to get underway. Happily married Atlanta couple Alison and Peter Novack (Christina Hendricks and Hayes MacArthur) decide to put their respective best friends, Holly Berenson (Heigl) and Eric Messer (Duhamel) together on a blind date. The uptight baker and the laidback sports broadcaster don’t even make it out of her driveway before they’ve sworn off each other – 'you look like you read, go read a book," the self-styled Messer helpfully suggests, having arranged another assignation on the phone for later that evening as Holly sits next to them.

Of course, one tragic car crash later and a lawyer is informing the pair that they have been legally designated the guardians of the Novack’s daughter Sophie (the Clagett triplets as a one-year-old, the Liddell twins as a two-year-old). It takes a sure touch to find humour in the midst of tragedy, so Life As We Know It settles for incongruous leaps of mood; the wake for their dearest friends becomes a comic auditioning of Holly’s unsuitable relatives. None are suitable, so the protagonists are soon cycling through Odd Couple routines while somewhat creepily living in the home of people they loved.

It’s appropriate that Holly and Messer don’t get along, for there is minimal chemistry between Heigl and Duhamel. Since Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up the former has played a succession of single women who have only disdain for a prospective male suitor and then find themselves unexpectedly falling in love. It’s becoming a cliché and it’s a shame because Heigl, beneath the frosty exterior, has genuine comic timing, with some of the best lines being asides that she spears into the silence after rote exchanges. Duhamel, however, is not a suitable foil – he has the same emotional commitment to a close basketball game as a child’s first step.

By way of choice, Josh Lucas – obviously still on Hollywood parole after Stealth – is wheeled out as a gentle pediatrician with a molasses-thick southern drawl, although that’s not the most effective decoy as the storyline heads towards the argument, rapprochement and happy ending that the genre is committed to. In other words, would you be surprised that someone races to the airport to stop the person they realise they love flying off to another life? This brisk, completely predictable confection does have one worthwhile nod to realism: Sophie takes in The Wiggles, The Wonder Pets and has Leonardo the Terrible Monster in her library. That rings true in a way Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel never will.


In Cinemas 21 October 2010,
Thu, 04/07/2011 - 11