Does America now demand its onscreen sweethearts to be brittle, snappish, and impeccably tailored and coiffed? That’s the gamble on which Katherine Heigl has staked her career since breaking out from the Grey’s Anatomy ensemble with Knocked Up. She looks great and smiles winningly, but only between long fits of chewing out her male co-stars and anyone else who gets in her way. Heigl doubles down on that bet with Life As We Know It, which feels like one long argument between her character and co-star Josh Duhamel, interrupted only by the occasional montage featuring a cute baby.
To be fair, Heigl plays a character under an unusual amount of stress. After her best friend (Christina Hendricks) and her best friend’s husband (Hayes MacArthur) die in a car accident, they leave their 1-year-old daughter in Heigl’s care with the provision that she raise the child with their other best friend—a slobbish, womanizing television sports director played by Duhamel. Do they get along? No they do not. But for the good of the kid, they work out a series of compromises that allows them to live under one roof, an arrangement they’re apparently committed to sticking with until the child grows to adulthood.
The movie’s fuzzy on that detail. In fact, Life As We Know It doesn’t spend much time exploring particulars of this arrangement in its long, shouty trudge toward Heigl and Duhamel’s inevitable mated-in-captivity pairing. Mostly, director Greg Berlanti—a TV veteran responsible for Everwood, Brothers & Sisters, and other shows—lets the co-stars snap at each other while tending to the baby as if they’d just inherited a being from another world. (It leaks! It cries!) Too bad all the sniping crowds out some potential entertainment happening in the margins from supporting players like Melissa McCarthy and Andrew Daly, as a brassy wife and her henpecked husband, and Sarah Burns, as Heigl and Duhamel’s blunt social worker. Instead, we get bickering that weighs the film down without giving it any gravity and twinkly cutesiness that doesn’t compensate for all the disapproving glares. Pity any poor kid stuck in a house like that. Pity, too, anyone who has to stop by for a visit.