What to Expect When You’re Expecting
Let’s start with some praise: What to Expect When You’re Expecting is the best fiction film ever made based on a pregnancy manual. It’s also better than it looks, but fails to hit the spot. It’s the sort of movie that is more interesting for sociological and film-making reasons than for the quality of the picture itself.
The movie is inspired by the perennial bestseller by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel. This is one of the few non-fiction books that I can remember being at pretty much every bookstore I’ve ever visited in my life. Were I to violate a life pledge and actually reproduce, it is very likely my wife would read it. I assume the book’s ubiquitous presence is what inspired the film version. It’s just another, slightly more silly example of the Hollywood technique of branding – using any property that already has some name recognition to pack the seats. To be fair, this approach apparently works as the studios keep doing it. 2009 gave us He’s Just Not That into You, which was based on a dating self-help book, and earlier this year, I suffered through a film based on a board game.
Given the ridiculous task of making a fictional narrative out of a pregnancy manual, screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein apparently decided to hedge their bets and combine elements of many popular genres. The movie is a strange chimera of a Judd Apatow scatological comedy, a hyperlink movie, a Woody Allen light dramedy and a chick flick.
There are too many stories for complete detail, but briefly, the film follows the simultaneous pregnancies of Jules (Cameron Diaz), the feisty host of a cable fitness show who struggles with her partner Evan (Matthew Morrison) for dominance; Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), a woman’s issues guru who finds pregnancy more difficult than she anticipated; Skyler (Brooklyn Decker), a twentysomething married to the much older retired race car driver Ramsey (Dennis Quaid); and Rosie (Anna Kendrick), who is shocked to find herself pregnant after a one night stand with Marco (Chance Crawford). As proof the guys are not left behind, there is a conflict between Ramsey and his son Gary (Ben Falcone), who happens to Wendy’s husband. Eerily, Gary is going to have another sibling almost exactly the same age as his own offspring.
The best storyline, and the only one I thought was really effective, involves Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), an infertile couple who are trying to adopt. The segments involving this couple are more serious than the others, and reveal that Lopez is a very good actress whose talent got buried under bad movies when she became a superstar. I was surprised that I became involved in Holly’s quest for motherhood. I also suspect that, like me, men in the audience (if they are any) will find that many of her husband’s concerns about parenting mirror their own.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is unfocused and conflicted. The attempts at comedy fall flat, and which hurt the film when it is trying to be more believable. I felt that Kohn and Silverstein acquitted themselves about as well as could be expected under the circumstances, so I blame most of this on the director, Kirk Jones, who should have exploited some of the obvious opportunity for universal drama and toned down the farce, or at least create an atmosphere where such things could exist in the same film. This is the kind of material that Robert Altman was expert at handling.
To its credit, the movie is not boring – the fact that there are so many different characters and storylines prevent that – and it’s difficult not to think about your own family (present or future) while watching the picture. However, the movie just doesn’t work. It’s unique and different, but you don’t leave feeling it was worth your money.
2.0 out 4