Life as We Know It (review)
First of all, any movie that kills off the smashing Christina Hendricks in the opening 20 minutes deserves to be shot down on the basis of that alone. But that’s only the tiniest of the many cinematic crimes of Life as We Know It, which pretends to be something hip and fresh and is in fact relentlessly conventional, even retrograde. It’s practically a right-wing wet dream, in which people who don’t even have sex are being punished for daring to live lives just the teensiest step outside what a certain narrow — and narrowminded — slice of American conservatism perceives to be normal. Liberal Hollywood? Hah!
Life as We Know It is as hideously offensive as, say, Knocked Up — both share the cheery theme of “People who aren’t ready to be parents and don’t want to be parents should just suck it up and deal with it, and they will fucking learn to like it” — except no one even has the momentary pleasure of getting laid. Katherine Heigl’s (Killers, The Ugly Truth) Holly Berenson and Josh Duhamel’s (Ramona and Beezus, When in Rome) Eric Messer hate each other — Hate. Each. Other. — but they get stuck with each other when their respective best friends, Alison Novack (Hendricks: Mad Men, Firefly) and her husband, Peter (Hayes MacArthur: She’s Out of My League, Are We Done Yet?), are killed in a car accident and happen to have previously named Holly and Eric as guardians for their baby, Sophie (Alexis, Brynn, and Brooke Clagett). This these so-called best friends do even though they are fully aware of the deep and abiding loathing that exists between Holly and Eric, which must qualify the Novacks’ decision as the Most Obnoxious Act of Passive-Aggression ever. And they never even asked Holly or Eric if this was something they’d like to deal to with, even as a remote possibility.
American, land of the meanspirited romantic comedy!
Oh yes, this is absolutely a romantic comedy. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that Eric and Holly will eventually come to not hate each other as they bond over the joys of diapers full of toxic baby shit. Because why should they expect get off easy? Eric had a happy-go-lucky life of working as a technical director for the local sporting franchise, a manly sort of job, and boinking whatever tasty blondes crossed his path. The movies tries to convince us that Holly is some kind of uptight in a way that is meant to represented by the fact that she owns a Smart Car, but she was happy, too, as a successful business owner — of a catering joint and bakery, a womanly sort of job — and has recently attracted the attention of a fine doctor (Josh Lucas: Management, Poseidon). But everyone else they meet in the movie — such as the Novacks’ neighbors, when they move into the Novacks’ house to minimize Sophie’s dislocation — is married and miserable. Which is what is expected of Holly and Eric, that they will marry and be miserable, like everyone else… not necessarily married to each other, but certainly to someone, eventually: Eric even makes the disparaging comment that Holly’s chances of engaging in marital terror are getting less likely at her age, when she’s no longer merely single but “complicated” (with the unspoken undercurrent being that she better take whatever she can get at this pathetic point). A woman shouldn’t be complicated if she has any expectation of entering into the joys of living with a husband she holds in contempt and babies who shit diapers full of toxic waste.
There is a serious attempt here — amongst the “comedy” about baby vomit, which director Greg Berlanti just loves — by screenwriter Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson to suggest that learning how to cope with a parenting partner you detest is exactly the same as marrying the love of your life (whom you only later come to detest). How this is meant to be any sort of family-positive thing remains a mystery. There is a truly subversive path Life as We Know It might have taken. The Novacks’ suburban McMansion is certainly obscenely huge enough to accommodate two families, so why not have Holly get with Dr. Josh Lucas — who is as badly treated by this film as any rom-com also-ran ever is — and they could live on one side of the house, perhaps with their own budding brood of babies. And Eric could enjoy a parade of booty-callers from his bachelor side of the house. They all learn to live together in an extended, truly modern invented family structure… while also putting to better use the kind of ecologically offensive suburban domicile that is reaching the end of its utility (Holly and Eric are already facing the financial absurdities of upkeep on the Novacks’ monstrosity).
This option would, of course, propose that there might be other acceptable ways of living in the world than precisely the way sitcoms and idiotic movies like this one are constantly telling us. And that wouldn’t do at all, apparently.