'L!fe Happens'

Though there's no way it could have been cobbled together in time to piggyback on the success of "Bridesmaids," Kat Coiro's "L!fe Happens" can't help but play like a poorer cousin to the recent Apatow factory hit.

Though there’s no way it could have been cobbled together in time to piggyback on the success of “Bridesmaids,” Kat Coiro’s “L!fe Happens” can’t help but play like a poorer cousin to the recent Apatow factory hit, with its smattering of femme-centric gross-out humor melding into its scenester single-mother storyline about as gracefully as the odd exclamation point does into its title. Though worth some distrib interest due to its strong girls-night-out marketing potential and the head-turning performances from relatable lead Krysten Ritter and gonzoid support player Justin Kirk, the film is ultimately an untenable muddle.

Pic opens on a shot of two closed doors behind which best friends and roommates Kim (Ritter, who co-scripted with Coiro) and Deena (Kate Bosworth) are entertaining unseen male guests; the two stars make their entrances in search of a condom, with Deena claiming the last one available. Skip forward to a year later, and Kim is saddled with an infant son (played by Connor and Zachary Ross). Celibate since that less-than-magical night and ensnared in a miserable job running errands for a posh canine-rights org (run by a massively overplaying Kristen Johnston), Kim is forced to tackle motherhood alone, with the still happily, hiply single aspiring writer Deena serving as her unreliable live-in babysitter.

Meeting a hunky divorce (Geoff Stults) at a club, Kim tries to up her desirability quotient by claiming her baby is actually Deena’s, thereby enlisting her friend in a series of wacky scenarios to maintain the ruse. This dilemma — which arrives far too late in the film to feel like its central conflict — becomes the pic’s biggest stumbling block, invested as it is with no more personality than an average midseason sitcom plot. The “Must See TV” style is augmented further by the addition of wacky roommate Laura (Rachel Bilson), a virginal Christian with a job as a nude sushi model, given nothing more interesting to do than walk around in skimpy outfits looking confused.

At least one cast member manages to twist this preciousness into something rich and strange: As a wannabe lothario who calls himself “Henri” despite an obviously non-Gallic background, Kirk manages to wring the film’s biggest laughs out of a gaggle of awful pickup lines and leering come-ons, all the while flirting with some borderline-disturbing stalker behavior as his character ravenously pursues Deena.

The film shows more promise when it manages to dial down the wackiness, touching on the ways motherhood can fray friendships and force uncomfortable realizations. In one genuinely affecting scene, Kim wonders if holding out on her long-held professional aspiration — in this case, opening a shopping mall for dogs — is impairing her ability to embrace motherhood. Granted, her career goal is ludicrous, but the sense of a childish young woman finally starting to understand what growing up actually looks like is sensitively played.

Ritter makes for an engaging lead, and her beleaguered expression as she totes armloads of infant accoutrements from car to doorstep says more about the strains of parenthood than anything in her dialogue. Bosworth, on the other hand, inhabits her libertine quipster with far less ease, delivering snappy comebacks and flippant pop-cultural references as though reading aloud from a particularly tortured Maureen Dowd column.

Pic is obviously shooting for a “Swingers” vibe with its near-constant barrage of scenes set in East L.A. hipster haunts, but simply flashing establishing shots of Silver Lake storefronts does not a sense of place make. And the decision to have these three underemployed young women bemoan their financial troubles and modest backgrounds from the immaculately furnished rec room of their palatial two-story house further impairs believability.

Technical specs are all reasonably solid, though some ill-advised split screens and cheeky wipes give the pic an otherwise undeservedly amateurish feel.

L!fe Happens

Production

A Dot Dot Dot Prods. presentation of a Stardust Pictures production. Produced by Justin L. Levine. Co-producers, Kat Coiro, David J. Phillips, Krysten Ritter, Corbin Timbrook. Directed by Kat Coiro. Screenplay, Coiro, Krysten Ritter.

Crew

Camera (color), Doug Chamberlain; editors, Adam Catino, Eli Nilsen; music, Mateo Messina; music supervisor, Robin Urdang; production designer, Kathrin Eder; costume designer, Ilaria Urbinati; art director, Emmy Eves; sound (Dolby), Reza Moosavi; supervising sound editor, David Barber; re-recording mixer, Ben Zarai; associate producers, Carissa Blades, Bobbie Blyle; assistant director, Corbin Larson; casting, Leslie Woo. Reviewed at Los Angeles Film Festival (Summer Showcase), June 18, 2011. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Krysten Ritter, Kate Bosworth, Rachel Bilson, Geoff Stults, Justin Kirk, Fallon Goodson, Andrea Savage, Connor Ross, Zachary Ross, Kristen Johnston, Rhys Coiro, Jason Biggs, Seymour Cassel, Lauren Conrad.

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