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L!fe Happens
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by Jay Seaver

"Character actress gets to be main character."
3 stars

Krysten Ritter tends to make everything she's in better, and as a result she's been a go-to girl for best friends and sidekicks in romantic comedies and the like. It's steady work, but if an actress doesn't take her career into her own hands, it's all she'll ever have, even if she's got the charisma and talent for lead roles. Ritter seems to have figured this out, co-writing and producing her own star vehicle in "Life Happens".

About a year ago, Kim (Ritter) and Deena (Kate Bosworth) found themselves with a guy in each of their bedrooms and just one condom between them, so now they're not just sharing a house with roommate Laura (Rachel Bilson), but Kim's son Max. On the surface, not much has changed, but Max's surfer father heading out on tour and her boss (Kristen Johnston) not liking babies as much as dogs means she's leaning on Deena and Laura more and more, and when she meets a nice guy (Geoff Stults) who might not be looking for a single mom, well, what's a little white lie?

Kim may not be a great role, but it's a good one, and Ritter clearly knows her own strengths. Both her expressive face and sharp tongue are put to good use; she can get more laughs out of rolled eyes and self-deprecating one-liners than others can get from pages of material. She's good at the sort of self-centeredness that can be grown out of, and her particular charm is neither abrasive not based on being any sort of shrinking violet. She's funny and sweet and adds life to every scene she's in

The rest of the cast aren't quite given characters so custom-made to make them look good, but it's a nice ensemble. Stults draws the "handsome and pleasant but kind of generic" card, but as such would-be boyfriend parts go, Nicolas is pretty good, though he gets a bit upstaged by Jason Biggs and Justin Kirk as his friends. Seymour Cassel is underused as Kim's grandfather, too. The ladies have more luck, with Kristen Johnston as a wonderfully ridiculous weirdo boss and Fallon Goodson & Andrea Savage both amusing as tertiary characters. Rachel Bilson and Kate Bosworth are kind of great as Kim's roomies: Bilson's one-joke character (a sweet, virginal Christian with a series of exploitative jobs) creates punchlines without being one, and Bosworth makes someone who could come across as cold driven instead, so that her moments of being legitimately cheerful don't seem out of character.

In a way, the pair personify the broad comedy and canny observation the script exhibits at its best moments. Co-writer and director Kat Coiro seems to know this side of Los Angeles cold and she's good at figuring just how long a joke should last. Those jokes are good more often than not, with occasionally unexpected punchlines. Coiro and Ritter can also spot when they're doing a dumb romantic comedy thing, usually finding a way to call it out and make things work for the characters without getting arch and self-referential.

They don't seem to have much idea how to resolve things, though. While Kim's arc arrives at its logical conclusion, the path getting her there is a bit off, and though money is never played up as a huge issue beyond Kim driving an old car and commenting that breast milk is free, it's odd how completely bereft of financial concerns the last act is. A lot of other bits around the end are similarly muted and convenient.

Despite those stumbles, the good bits are pretty enjoyable. If nothing else, the movie shows that Krysten Ritter has what it takes to be a lead player instead of just a scene-stealer - she should have more people writing movies for her.

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originally posted: 04/18/12 14:39:15
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  13-Apr-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 28-Aug-2012


  DVD: 28-Aug-2012

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