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What to Expect When You’re Expecting

May 22, 2012
What to Expect When You're Expecting

I must admit, there’s a lot of ways that an adaptation of Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel’s bestselling pregnancy guide could have gone horribly, horribly wrong, and for the most part What to Expect When You’re Expecting manages to avoid them. That still doesn’t mean it works, though. Maybe the wildly uneven pacing and tone is meant to be evocative of mood swings or something; I don’t know. Whatever the reason, there’s too much going on and too little of it works.

Of course, there’s no overarching narrative in a self-help book — even less in one about pregnancy than one about dating like Think Like a Man — so the script comes up with a bunch of prospective parents to slap the book’s situations onto. The confluential storylines seem a bit contrived and unnecessary, but at least they don’t really strain credulity.

Jules and Evan (Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison) are a dance-contest couple who get together behind the scenes; they’re both type-A personalities, so they have trouble compromising on any of the decisions that come up. Rosie and Marco (Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford) run rival food trucks; Rosie ends up pregnant after a one-night-stand and they have to figure out what to do.

Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) runs a baby store with her dim-witted assistant (Rebel Wilson), but finds actual pregnancy more complicated than she expected. It doesn’t help that she’s face to face with Skyler (Brooklyn Decker) who makes it look easy; Skyler is the trophy wife of Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), whose son, Gary (Ben Falcone), is Wendy’s husband.

The odd couple is Holly and Alex (Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro), who are actually adopting a child; Alex isn’t sure he wants to be a father, so he calms his nerves by hanging out with the “dudes group” (Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon, Rob Huebel, and Amir Talai) of fathers who form a mutual support network.

It seems a little weird in a movie ostensibly about pregnancy — especially from Whip It screenwriter Shauna Cross — but this is a really guy-centered film. All the best-developed character arcs are guys: the dudes group pulls Alex around on fatherhood; Gary and Ramsey work out their father-son issues. Holly and Skyler never really grow or change. Jules and Evan don’t really resolve anything either, though they act as if they have.

The other weird thing is that almost none of the conflict really has to do with pregnancy per se. There are interpersonal issues that the pregnancies bring out, but I’m pretty sure the original book is only concerned with the deglamorization Wendy comes to terms with the hard way. In fact, if we had just dropped all the other stories and followed Wendy’s in more detail that might have made a far more interesting movie. Of course, then Elizabeth Banks might have actually had to look, well, unglamorous, and we can’t have that. It’s especially ironic that while she’s meant to reassure real women that it’s all right — even normal — to find this process difficult, the whole time she looks fabulous next to everyone except the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model.

The other premise that could have led to more is Rosie and Marco’s situation. The whole question of what to do after a fling results in a pregnancy is a non-starter, but it’s in their story that the movie dips the closest to pathos, and Kendrick does her level best to bring in some real emotional range. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is too weak to support either, and the whole thing just falls flat. Still, I give Kendrick — and even Crawford — credit for their efforts.

There are definitely some good ideas in here, and it could have been a lot messier. Still, What to Expect When You’re Expecting doesn’t seem to have any clue what movie it wants to be, and there’s no sense in wasting time watching it lurch around erratically until it decides.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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