I want to like Katherine Heigl.
But I don’t ““ the lack of range in her characters over the last three years seems to point toward an inability to play someone interesting, and the type of character she plays automatically puts her in the background ““ and yet something inside me wants to feel like I can relate to her.
A couple of weeks ago, Campus Events Commission showed a sneak peak of “Life As We Know It.” If you missed it, the movie was released in theaters on Friday.
Heigl stars with Josh Duhamel, also known as Mr. Fergie, as the two best friends of a couple killed in a car accident. Together, the two of them have to raise their friends’ orphaned child together. But of course, Heigl’s character Holly hates Duhamel’s character Eric, until raising a child with him makes her less frigid.
I feel like I’ve already seen this movie. Heigl is never nice to her love interests, and while I prefer that to the well-stacked, personality-less leading ladies of other romantic comedies (which is why no one knows where the leading lady in “Employee-of-the-Month” is these days) I don’t want to see the same movie more than once, maybe twice.
Even the names of her characters ““ Abby in “The Ugly Truth,” Jane in “27 Dresses” and Holly in her latest masterpiece “Life As We Know It” ““ are boring in their outdated simplicity.
I’m more willing to associate the blame with the genre. It’s hard to create diverse characters when all leading ladies travel down the same overbeaten paths.
Most genres have their staples; it’s just that the staples of romantic comedies tend to be poorly executed. Screenwriting professor Neil Landau said that the big ones for romantic comedies are the “meet cute” (the moment when the two leads bump into each other, often literally, in some cute way) and the presence of a love triangle.
“In order to have a well-conceived love triangle, both choices need to be viable in their own way,” Landau said. “In the best romantic comedies, you’re not sure how they’re going to end up together or even if they’re going to end up together. Sometimes they don’t end up together, and that shakes things up.”
Landau listed “When Harry Met Sally,” “Broadcast News,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “500 Days of Summer” and Katharine Hepburn’s “The Philadelphia Story” as quality romantic comedies based on this criteria.
In addition to good casting and chemistry between the leads, the films have stakes. You hope they’ll end up together, but you don’t know it with the same cynical certainty that other films allow you.
Not counting “Knocked Up,” which has a 90 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the four high-profile movies Heigl has starred in have ranged from a mediocre 40 percent (“27 Dresses”) to an embarrassing, ideally (for audiences) career-ending 12 percent (“Killers”). The low ratings seem to stem from the same default ““ the predictability of it.
In a review of “Life As We Know It” for the New York Daily News, Elizabeth Weitzman may have put it best with this opening statement: “You won’t find a more aptly titled movie than “˜Life as We Know It,’ which veers not an inch off Hollywood’s well-worn rom-com path. … We can predict exactly when, why and how they’ll connect because by now, we know this story inside out.”
And maybe the biggest problem with romantic comedies, the reason why the majority of them will continue to follow the same path is simply that they don’t need to change to make money. The films aren’t Oscar bait but bait for moviegoers looking for a good time.
Hanna Linstadt, CEC’s director of films and a fourth-year biology student, worked to get “Life As We Know It” screened on campus because films like Heigl’s tend to draw big crowds. According to Linstadt, there was a full house that night.
Linstadt even said that, despite seeming like a textbook, sappy romantic comedy, the movie wasn’t that bad. If that’s what Heigl is looking for, then she’s getting it.
_E-mail John at [email protected] if your name is Abby, Jane or Holly and this article offended you. _