It’s easy to become cynical about a certain brand of funny-sad familial comedies (The Family Stone, Pieces of April), but it’s harder to remember the simple, pop pleasures that can be had watching an entirely fictional family of Hollywood superstars get together and act their way through the rituals of domesticity. Innocuous though it is, the well executed, well-meaning Life As We Know It is full of those isn’t-this-charming moments: Josh Duhamel attempting to change a diaper, Katharine Heigl carving a Thanksgiving turkey for a group of thankless neighbors. It’s almost as if Us Weekly were crossbred with a photo shoot from Good Housekeeping: Several years after a failed date and an ensuing awkward friendship, Holly (Heigl) and Eric (Duhamel) find out that their mutual best friends, a married couple, have died in a car accident and left the two of them to (jointly) take care of their orphaned baby girl—thus forcing them to get to know each other and fall into each other’s arms.
It’s a pretty bleak setup for a romantic comedy of the week, reminiscent of the underlying trauma that fueled Kenneth Lonergan’s much more substantial You Can Count on Me. But while director Greg Berlanti has a knack for cheap sentimentality, he’s also surprisingly deft at moving between melodrama and moments of levity: In the film’s best sequence, after redecorating their dead friends’ “creepy” house, Holly and Eric proceed to fuck, get stoned, and wig out to a surreal children’s video in the late couple’s master bedroom. Less charming are Duhamel (whose magnetism, sadly, seems to come mostly from the promotional images of his abs) and Heigl, who does nothing to squash the reputation that she’s an annoying, type-A robot (she spends so much time fretting that by the end it’s hard to believe anyone could actually fall in love with her). Take it as a sign of the filmmakers’ sense of humor, then, that one of the funniest moments is watching a gossipy guest inform her in front of the party, “Sweetie, you have shit on your face.”