If you’re not expecting much, then you may have set your expectations too high.
Hyperlinked, star mash-up romantic comedies have now become a staple of the cinematic calendar, taking us from Valentine’s Day through to New Year’s Eve. With studios rapidly running out of holidays to catapult willing Hollywoodians at, director Kirk Jones has turned to Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel’s seminal field guide for for expectant mothers hoping to survive pregnancy. In the grand tradition of He’s Just Not That Into You, the non-fiction origins are transformed into a film that is operating without a medical licence.
What To Expect When You’re Expecting follows five couples in Atlanta who are on their way to becoming parents. Jules (Cameron Diaz), a television weight-loss host and Evan (Matthew Morrison) are a celebrity couple who hooked up on a dance show, only to find Jules is pregnant. Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and Gary (Ben Falcone) are a long-term married couple who suddenly become pregnant after years of trying. Gary competes with his race-car driving father Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), who is married to the much younger, and also pregnant, Skyler (Brooklyn Decker). Then there’s cheese-truck operator Rosie (Anna Kendrick), who hooks up with former flame and fellow food-truckie Marco (Chace Crawford). Their brief encounter leaves Rosie craving more than cheddar. Meanwhile, Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) prepare to adopt an Ethiopian child, although Alex isn’t ready.
The sense of urgency created by What To Expect When You’re Expecting has nothing to do with pending childbirth, but rather the sheer number of narratives flying about. Most films would struggle with making a compelling story out of a single pregnancy let alone five, but here we have at least three stories too many. Case in point is the Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford’s storyline, which actually wraps up less than halfway through the film. The pair have very little to do except meander through familiar plot points, adrift without a central spiel to hang onto. Worse still is the suggestion that without the titular expectation, there is no corresponding happiness for this pair of hipsters.
Other fragments fare slightly better, with at least one amusing scene from Elizabeth Banks breaking down at a motherhood expo. Similarly, the rivalry between Quaid and Falcone should have served as the basis for its own film, and would have been much funnier as a result. Yet it is the “Dude’s group”, a collection of fathers who live by their own code, who have the only chuckles. Chris Rock spins his take on daddyhood in familiar tones, and Rob Huebel and Thomas Lennon compliment him nicely. Yet this too suffers from the rest of the film’s inconsequential staging, with True Blood‘s Joe Manganiello only cast to run through shirtless from time to time. At least when Jennifer Lopez infrequenly shows up, we get to go to Africa.
Ultimately meaningless, the film borders on the offensive at the suggestion happiness for women is only achieved through a union and a baby. Automated writing at best, it is unlikely writers Shauna Cross and Heather Hach had to do much beyond come up with scenarios, and a random sample bag was chosen. Original author Heidi Murkoff has been criticised for writing a guidebook without any medical training, where the film can be more simply reprimanded for running without a responsible adult present.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting is released in Australia on 31 May 2012 from Roadshow Films.