The indie rom-com/sitcom L!fe Happens is a case study in how bad movies can turn an ordinary, relatable situation into a grotesque distortion with only a passing resemblance to the way actual human beings live and interact with each other. The situation: A single, twentysomething party girl (Krysten Ritter) has an unplanned pregnancy, the father bails, and she has to reconcile the burden of raising the kid with the desire to have some sort of social life—and perhaps a little love on the side. Having her live in a rented house with two good friends who help her with the baby, sometimes reluctantly, also falls within the realm of plausible complication; after all, it takes a village. But L!fe Happens turns on a lie so hoary and contrived that it would have been cut from any self-respecting TV show or romantic comedy 20 years ago. (Though kept in non-self-respecting ones.) The young mother, in an effort to keep a would-be date on the line, tells him that the baby is her friend’s, not hers.
To give L!fe Happens just a shred of credit, the reason she tells this ancient, unsustainable Hollywood lie is that she wants some action—“a little bone and bolt,” as she puts it. Ritter (who also co-scripted with director Kat Coiro) still wants to have fun and fool around, and the film has a frank, non-judgmental tone about sexuality that’s refreshing, though often irritatingly blunt. Yet hanging the entire second act on the strained tomfoolery of Ritter hiding the truth from her blandly handsome suitor (Geoff Stults), even as more serious feelings inevitably develop between them, thrusts the film into Heiglsville. The only thing that makes it “indie” is that it cost less to produce.
Though Coiro and Ritter’s script goes heavy on the Diablo Cody-isms—the exclamation mark in the title is a good indicator of its misplaced comic aggression—there are flickers of the smart, profane character piece that might have been, especially when Ritter, a gifted and appealing flibbertigibbet, riffs casually with her best friend (Kate Bosworth). But the extraneous quirks and characters pile up, from a third housemate (Rachel Bilson) who proclaims her virginity while exploring degrading jobs in “naked sushi” to a brutal turn by Kristen Johnson as Ritter’s rich boss, who hates babies and acts (and dresses) like a petulant teenager. In the cartoon universe of L!fe Happens, they’re the ones most at home.