Life As We Know It

[Christianity Today Movies; Oct 8, 2010]

Stars: 2

Cast: Katherine Heigl (Holly Berenson), Josh Duhamel (Messer Messer), Josh Lucas (Sam), Sarah Burns (Janine Groff), Alexis, Brynn, and Brooke Clagett (Sophie)

How bad can a blind date be? When Eric Messer (“Call me Messer”) shows up an hour late at Holly Berenson’s apartment, invites her to climb onto his motorcycle in a sheath dress and high heels, then answers his phone and makes a date for later (“11:00”—a glance at Holly—“no, 10:30”), it could hardly be worse.

Who thought these two would mesh? Pete Novack, Messer’s best friend from high school, and Alison, Holly’s best friend from college. After the disastrous date, we see a montage of home-movie clips of Pete and Alison’s life—wedding, dinners, parties, and baby Sophie’s first birthday—with Messer and Holly eternally sparring in the background.

Then the unthinkable happens: Alison and Pete are killed in a car accident. Messer and Holly are in for another shock, though. In their will, Alison and Pete named them, jointly, the caretakers for Sophie. They can live in the Novacks’ big, beautiful house, to keep Sophie in the home she has always known. It doesn’t matter that they have never been in charge of a baby before, or that they can’t stand the sight of each other. From now on, they will Sophie’s substitute mom and dad.

It’s not a bad premise, and it looks like a good way to kickstart an old-fashioned screwball comedy, the kind in which the romantic leads bristle with conflicts right up to the moment they fall into each others’ arms. And, because it involves a baby, there are opportunities for gross-out humor (baby throws up in Messer’s face, spits food in Holly’s face, and bestows an overwhelming diaper on the couple) that will make the film more bearable to viewers who don’t particularly like love stories.

As in any good screwball comedy, the central couple is surrounded by quirky, fun-to-watch characters. Holly and Messer search Sophie’s family tree to find a substitute caregiver and come up with a cousin who’s a stripper, a cousin with 9 children (“At least they know how to keep a child alive,” Holly offers in their favor), and Pete’s dad, whose capacity for raising Sophie comes into question when she runs over his oxygen hose and unplugs it, nearly asphyxiating him.

Next, there are the neighbors, who come over bearing casseroles: two gay men (who keep eying Messer), a 300-lb former sprinter and his needy wife (who keeps eying Messer), a plump, friendly, southern neighbor (who keeps eying Messer), and her wry husband, Scott. They eagerly give advice to the new, shell-shocked parents. You will never get used to children’s music, they say. Scott adds, “If I knew where the Wiggles live—and I’m working on it—I would shoot them with an AK-47.”

Messer has a quirky co-worker, at his job as a technical director for broadcasts of the Atlanta Hawks’ games. Holly has a quirky employee, at her bakery and catering business, Fraiche. Sophie has a quirky Social Services investigator, though this character is initially nicely concealed behind a businesslike demeanor and becomes more visible, and more interesting, over the course of the movie.

Sophie also has a heartthrob pediatrician, whom Holly had formed a crush on even before she became a replacement mom. In a classic screwball comedy there needs to be someone who provides competition to the male lead, to spice up the game. In this case, as in Sleepless in Seattle, Liar Liar, His Girl Friday, and other classic films of this genre, the leading lady is torn between a suitor who is likeable and good-looking, but somewhat square compared to the male lead’s bad-boy temptation.

But the comic opportunities presented by Messer’s naughty side are so thoroughly depicted that it’s not clear why he would be a good match for Holly. Dr. Sam, on the other hand, is such a good and decent guy that I was rooting for him to be the one who won Holly’s heart. The film’s big reveal comes when Holly and Messer realize that their best friends knew all along that they were made for each other, but the audience hasn’t been let in on their reasoning.

That’s where the problem lies. At the center of all this carefully-orchestrated quirkiness, there has to be a strong romantic bond between Holly and Messer—but it is just not that convincing. A movie like this needs an increasing build-up of tension between the romantic leads and then a passionate payoff. But when Holly and Messer first kiss, it’s like the air goes out of the movie. The tension is resolved—for this?

Don’t lose heart completely, though; the best scenes with Sophie’s social worker are still to come. “Life as We Know It” could be one of Holly’s bakery confections; a festival of quirk around the edges and a hole in the middle.

Talk About It

1. The point in the film when the Novacks die is handled sensitively, and a significant moment comes when Messer and Holly first open the door of the Novacks’ home. There they see the typical disarray of a busy family, the sort people would leave when they expect to be back in a few hours. What did you notice in that scene? How did the scene affect you?

2. Dr. Sam tells Holly, “If my ex-wife and I had fought like that, we would still be married.” What does he mean? Do you agree?

3. It never occurs to many young couples that they should make out a will or choose caregivers for their children. If your children are still small, have you thought about who would replace you? Have you talked with your spouse about those choices?

The Family Corner

There are a number of gross jokes, including a character not realizing that she has baby poop on her face. There is a scene in which characters bake and eat marijuana brownies. References to promiscuous sex, and sexual banter, run through the film, but there are no overt sex scenes or nudity.

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service,, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

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