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Movie Review

Life as We Know It

Couple’s odd, plot’s obvious; still, ‘Life’ has its appeal

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / October 8, 2010

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‘Life as We Know It’’ gives bland and predictable a good name. The story of a mismatched couple learning to live and love when they’re forced to raise their friends’ newly orphaned baby, it’s the kind of date-night fluff that Hollywood regularly cranks out to keep the suburban multiplexes and Netflix queues humming. Pure product. But where the current “You Again’’ or star Katherine Heigl’s last few films (“The Ugly Truth,’’ “Killers’’) are crass and generally hateful, “Life’’ is one of the better mass-produced greeting cards out there. It’s brisk, pleasantly acted, painless. These days, that’s high praise.

Heigl partially redeems herself as Holly Berenson, an Atlanta caterer and singleton pushing 30; it’s the same old role but at least the screenwriters don’t regard her unmarried status with complete horror. She’s a sympathetic neat freak who barely survives a disastrous blind date with Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel), a cocky slob of a sports TV technician. Why their mutual friends Peter and Alison (Hayes MacArthur and Christina Hendricks) thought they’d click is a mystery to these two and to anyone who has never seen a Hollywood romantic comedy before.

Peter and Alison then have the temerity to get killed in a discreet off-screen car crash, leaving their 1-year-old daughter Sophie (played by triplets Alexis, Brynn, and Brooke Clagett) in the care of Holly and Messer. You’re probably asking the same questions I did: Aren’t there any other relatives? Where will the couple live? How long before they cave in to the inevitable? The movie answers these amusingly and, in the context, almost believably.

What we have, then, is Oscar and Felix stuck in a suburban mansion with a kid, except that Felix is a woman and Oscar is a hunk. “Life as We Know It’’ gets as much comic mileage as it can out of the nosy neighbors — the husbands griping about their lost sleep and expanding waistlines, the wives (and one gay husband) waiting by their front doors for when Messer goes jogging shirtless — and it deploys its subsidiary characters efficiently. Sarah Burns gets off a few good deadpan reaction shots as a Child Services caseworker and Faizon Love is very funny as a cab driver pressed into service as a baby sitter.

And there’s Josh Lucas as the movie’s Mr. Dreamboat, a divorced pediatrician who woos Holly and stands as much chance of getting her as Ralph Bellamy stood of getting the girl in any of his movies with Cary Grant. Not that Duhamel is Cary Grant, but he’s likable enough under the circumstances, and he plays well with Heigl. They’re a good match, even if their chemistry doesn’t quite expand to fill the big screen.

Everything about “Life as We Know It’’ feels TV-size, actually, which makes sense given director Greg Berlanti’s extensive experience writing and producing network series (“Everwood,’’ “Brothers & Sisters’’). That extends to the depressingly generic suburban settings and home decor, the coffee-bar cover versions of well-known songs — if you’re going to use “Pump It Up,’’ you may as well pay for the Elvis Costello original — the over-lit actors and the occasionally slipshod camerawork. You may enjoy the movie even if you know where it’s heading at any given moment, but this is not life as we know it. It’s life as we know it from television.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/tyburr.

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT Directed by: Greg Berlanti

Written by: Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson

Starring: Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 115 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (sexual material, language, some drug content)

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