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‘Life as We Know It’ had an unlikely conception

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For all of its fluffy romantic-comedy trappings, ‘Life as We Know It’ isn’t the most obviously marketable premise. It starts, after all, with two tragic deaths and an orphaned baby, the narrative springboard to a mismatched pair taking responsibility for a child. On hearing the premise, a non-film colleague reacted with, ‘Is that really what it’s about? Sheesh.’

That may be at least partly why the weekend’s strongest new opener (at $14.6 million, it came in just behind ‘The Social Network,’ a respectable if not overpowering performance) took a twisty path to the screen. Written nine years ago by then-newbies Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, the project languished around town for a long time, with executives flummoxed by its two-toned approach.

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‘It’s such an unconventional way into a romantic comedy,’ Deitchman told 24 Frames as he described the film project’s first go-round at Fox 2000, which eventually opted not to make it.'We’d get the note: ‘It’s kind of a comedy and a drama. Can’t it be one or the other?’ And we’d say ' No, that’s the whole point.’'

Despite the slightly jarring conceit, the pair say that they saw the film as eminently relatable. ‘We always felt that people would identify with the new parenting experience because that’s universal,’ Deitchman said. ‘And everyone in one way or another has dealt with grief and loss.’

‘We envisioned it as a romantic comedy in reverse,’ Robinson added. ‘These people get the baby, now they have to fall in love.’

Friends from Northwestern University who toiled at Hollywood apprenticeships (Deitchman worked for James Brooks; Robinson for the director Randa Haines), the pair tried their hand at various ideas, selling only one script before they churned out ‘Life’ in late 2001. (Although they are a male-female team that specializes in comedies about marriage and children, Deitchman and Robinson are actually in relationships, and raising children, with other people.)

The idea for ‘Life’ came from Deitchman worrying about what would happen to his child if something happened to him (Deitchman’s wife was pregnant at the time) and telling single friends about his concern and the idea of them taking responsibility. ‘We knew we would get a lot of comic mileage from putting people in over their heads. But more important, we were excited about the dramatic parts,’ he said.

He and Robinson then wrote ‘Life,’ but the movie stalled until Katherine Heigl read the script and came on board several years ago, with the television veteran Greg Berlanti joining shortly after as director.

Deitchman and Robinson are moving on to several new comedies with romantic and dramatic undertones. Another script of theirs, set up with Ashton Kutcher attached to star, is about several generations of fathers and sons. ‘Parenthood makes its way into our stories. I’m not sure why,’ Robinson said. A new package that is coming together with some big stars will also will tell an emotional story beneath its high-concept premise, Deitchman said.

Although audiences gave it an A-, ‘Life as We know It’ didn’t win much adulation from critics -- note a 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- who particularly picked on the idea of Heigl taking on yet another role of the put-upon but beautiful single woman. The ‘Life’ writers are aware of the skeptics, but say that there’s a resilience to romantic comedies that defies criticism. ‘It’s the kind of genre that’s easily picked on,’ Deitchman said. ‘But at the end of the day people want to see romantic movies, no matter how familiar they may be.’ -- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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