There’s no escaping the sitcom premise — mismatched couple who hate each other reluctantly forced to raise orphaned baby — but “Life as We Know It” milks its formula (pardon the expression) for about all it can. Katherine Heigl has already done enough similar movies to warrant grading on a curve (a “Knocked Up” here, a “27 Dresses” there), so the mild revelation will be Josh Duhamel, though not to anyone who admired his romantic-comedy credentials from “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton.” It’s a predictable date-night diversion, true, but the stork will still likely deliver Warner Bros. reasonably happy returns.
Granted, the “Omigod! The diaper’s full!” gags are hardly new (Fox’s sitcom “Raising Hope” is currently mining the same soiled linen), and romantic comedies tend to be dangerous zones these days for biological parents. But for young women in particular, a lot of this will resonate — including the fact that whenever Duhamel’s character strips down to jog, that prospect brings out much of the neighborhood to bathe him in admiring stares.
Duhamel’s Eric (who goes by his last name, Messer) is a guy’s guy, so much so that he arrives on a pre-credits blind date with Heigl’s Holly with a latenight booty call already lined up. Yes, the first meeting’s a disaster, but the two are best friends with the respective halves of a young couple (Hayes MacArthur, “Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks), so they tolerate each other while keeping up with them and their baby daughter, Sophie (played by a trio of tots).
An accident later, Holly and Messer discover their friends have left them as the child’s guardians, forcing them to take up residence together in the couple’s house. The improbability of it all notwithstanding (nobody told them?), this leads to the requisite new-parent confusion, coupled with sexual tension disguised as hostility — he’s a man-child/horndog, naturally, and she’s an uptight list-maker.
Director Greg Berlanti is best known for his work in television (“Brothers & Sisters,” “Everwood”), and stars Heigl (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Duhamel (“Las Vegas”) came to prominence in that medium as well. The filmmakers have also assembled a gifted ensemble of actors primarily associated with TV, with Melissa McCarthy of CBS’ “Mike & Molly” standing out as a round-faced Georgia peach (the setting’s Atlanta) who gets the vapors around Messer — who, when not bedding women, works behind the scenes on Hawks basketball telecasts.
The script, by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, hardly breaks any new ground, but it does yield occasional bursts of dialogue that exceed expectations. That said, Berlanti overstays his welcome, padding out the movie’s length (how many musical montages do you really need?) in a manner that demands some patience, given that the ultimate destination — despite a handsome pediatrician (Josh Lucas) vying for Holly’s affection — never seems in doubt.
Mostly, though, Berlanti seems to recognize that between the cute baby and Duhamel’s even cuter smile, “Life” delivers enough “aww” moments (coupled with the occasional laugh) to deliver its money’s worth to an audience vulnerable to such elements — perhaps especially those who have pried open a diaper with trepidation.All that might sound painfully familiar or like a welcome distraction, but either way, “Life” demonstrates quite a lot about the state of this genre as we know it — and by that unexacting measure, anyway, it’s better than most.