‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ Review
What to expect when you’re expecting to see ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’: some genuinely clever media satire, a couple bum storylines, 2 cankle jokes, 3 peed myself jokes, a scene where a woman angrily demands an epidural after previously insisting she wouldn’t take one, product placement for Delta and the California Pizza Kitchen, and the nagging feeling that this whole production is just a pregnancy themed riff on the ‘Valentine’s Day’/‘New Year’s Day’ kitchen sink approach to romantic comedy.
We begin with one of the strongest scenes, a spoof of ‘Dancing With the Stars’ where Cameron Diaz’s Jillian Michaels-esque fitness guru Jules narrowly defeats Dwayne Wade for the championship on ‘Celebrity Dance Factor.’ In some sort of weird harmonic fertility convergence, seemingly everyone watching Jules’ victory in the Atlanta metro area becomes pregnant at the exact same moment (later they’ll all deliver their babies simultaneously too).
In a John Carpenter film, this would be the start of a sinister horror story about supernatural forces beyond our comprehension. In Kirk Jones’ film inspired by the famous Heidi Murkoff pregnancy guide, it’s the impetus for a sort of prenatal ‘Nashville’ -- a multi-perspectived sprawl of loosely connected characters all dealing with the issues of impending parenthood. Baby store owner Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and her husband Gary (Ben Falcone) finally conceive after years of trying; photographer Holly (Jennifer Lopez) gets her reluctant adman husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) to agree to adopt; food truck chef Rosie (Anna Kendrick) finds her one night stand with rival food truck chef Marco (Chace Crawford) bears unexpected and unwanted fruit. And of course Jules herself discovers her own pregnancy on live television, puking into her championship trophy as her dancing partner beau Evan (‘Glee’’s Matthew Morrison) looks on in horror.
The extreme number of protagonists and plot lines is a clever way of portraying the breadth of pregnancy possibilities explored in Murkoff’s guide, and it also proves a smart way to jam a whole bunch of bankable actors into a single film. Ideally, though, four times the protagonists should yield four times the entertainment value; here it only seems to result in four times the clichés. There are meet-cutes and false break-ups and illogical chase scenes and insane coincidences. What to expect? How about every rom-com trope in the book.
All the stories have strengths and weaknesses. Banks gives an appealingly coarse performance, full of the sort of gross-out gags that were typically -- at least in the pre-‘Bridesmaids’ days -- reserved for male comedians. She and Falcone also make the most convincing married couple, but the subplot about his strained relationship with his competitive NASCAR legend father (Dennis Quaid) and his new and newly pregnant wife (Brooklyn Decker) is exactly that: strained. Lopez and Santoro’s scenes are the only ones to address the tough, financial realities of babydom, but it’s also the only one to forget about the tough financial realities of babydom without offering any sort of explanation or solution (they also introduce, and then squander, Chris Rock, Rob Huebel, and Thomas Lennon as a sort of new dad support group).
Diaz’s world of reality television and tabloid gossip produces all the funniest comedic material, especially once Megan Mullally shows up as Morrison’s hilariously flirtatious new dance partner, but Jules and Evan’s conflict is literally just scene after scene of the two arguing about whether or not to get their son circumcised, tension so thin even a mohel would have trouble cutting it with a knife. Kendrick and Crawford’s plot contains the most surprises, but it’s also basically a less interesting version of Judd Apatow’s ‘Knocked Up.’
A study in The Los Angeles Times published earlier this week found that only 11% of all 2011 film protagonists were women, and in light of that depressing tidbit, it’s good on some level that ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ exists at all, since it’s a film where four women get to shine in lead roles, upstaging their male counterparts who, in a refreshing change of pace, are the ones frequently depicted as little more than lust objects (there’s two topless male scenes and zero topless female ones). But is it asking too much of a film with this many talented comediennes to be a little bit funnier and a little more original? I don’t think that’s expecting too much.
'What to Expect When You're Expecting' hits theaters on May 18th
Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’