Katherine Heigl has a problem. She's fast becoming America's anti-Sweetheart: the romantic comedy starlet you love to hate.
Ever since making a splash on ABC's Grey's Anatomy (you know, back when it was good) and landing her subsequent film breakthrough in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up, Heigl's been on the A-list. But has she abused and/or wasted that star power by choosing some of the worst film roles of the past few years?
Let's start by examining Heigl's post-stardom career choices. Despite having acted for years since childhood (remember My Father, The Hero and Under Siege 2?) Heigl only truly broke out after playing the single gal impregnated by Seth Rogen's slacker loser in Knocked Up. Professional, beautiful, and slightly neurotic, that character formed the basis for the romantic comedy niche Heigl would subsequently carve out for herself.
Unfortunately, Heigl found herself in an increasingly downward spiral of romantic comedies with diminishing returns. It began with 2008's 27 Dresses, in which she played a perennial bridesmaid and pushover who figures out at the last moment that she's in love with James Marsden's cynical cad. Frothy and clichéd, it still made almost $160 million worldwide -- the first sign that Heigl was traversing the perilous road to rom-com hell.
Next came The Ugly Truth, a more traditionally-structured battle of the sexes romantic comedy that pitted Heigl (again, a neurotic and romantically-challenged professional) against Gerard Butler's male chauvinist. In the film, opposites attracted, more clichés were ticked off the list, and Heigl once again found herself loosening up for love. Critics responded with widespread disdain; audiences around the world responded by making The Ugly Truth Heigl's second biggest hit since Knocked Up.
Then there was this year's Killers, an anemic domestic spy rom-com about a beautiful, neurotic woman (Heigl) who unwittingly falls for a dashing secret agent (Ashton Kutcher). Despite a painfully inept script packed with (what else?) clichés, Killers marked a noticeable drop in popularity for the formula Heigl had so carefully cultivated up to that point. Were audiences growing wary of the Heigl factor (i.e. the make-or-break presence of Katherine Heigl in a romantic movie), thinking twice about seeing a chick flick simply because she was in it?
Which brings us to this week's Life as We Know It, a movie that tests the power of the Heigl factor. Here, Heigl's got a few things going for her: A) She not only stars, she also executive produces the film and ostensibly had more creative control over the direction of the film and of her character. B) It's not a conventional romantic comedy, per se; the plot, about two mutually loathing singles who band together to raise their best friends' baby is heavy on the drama, inviting more emotionality than the rom-com genre usually affords. C) Heigl's co-star is Josh Duhamel, an actor who manages to be so effortlessly likable that he can be sort of a jerk without becoming a caricature.
Sure, there are the neuroses, the poop-on-the-face jokes, the clichéd movie run to the airport to declare one's love at the last moment. Heigl's not getting off that easy. The question is, is the Heigl factor getting better or worse with each passing generic romantic film? Is there hope for Katherine Heigl to turn it all around, or will she be doomed to Renee Zellweger status ... indefinitely?