What To Expect When You’re Expecting
What should you expect from "What to Expect When You’re Expecting"? Well, certainly not a good movie, for starters. But you also can count on these ’attractions’: jokes about unintentional urination and farting (and every other bodily function), an unwieldy bevy of Hollywood stars and starlets, and most importantly, a total lack of fulfillment as you leave the theater.
"What to Expect" is only the latest in what is quickly becoming one of my least favorite subgenres: the lightweight celebrity ensemble comedy based on a popular self-help/instructional novel. And unfortunately, this errs far closer to the inanities and pointlessness we suffered through in "He’s Just Not that Into You" that it does the hilarity of "Think Like a Man."
So, in keeping with the subgenre, we get a huge cast of star and character actors who live out their own mini-plots while cutely walking past each other to connect the threads, as if this were some kind of candy-coated "Magnolia."
We see Jennifer Lopez and her beau adopt; while maternity store manager Elizabeth Banks and her effeminate hubby parade around in Snuggies making "I peed myself" jokes (I’m not exaggerating.) Anna Kendrick gets to do the requisite ’sad people in the rain’ scenes (and the standard meet-cute, separation, reconciliation plot that comes along with it), while Cameron Diaz tries to reconcile her work-life (as a reality TV health guru) with the fact that she’s getting very fat. Trust me, there’s not a second of this film you haven’t seen ten times already (so yeah, don’t expect any subplots about same-sex couples adopting. Not in this movie.)
So it of course goes without saying that the film is even lighter than the laughably fake bellies our starlets parade around carrying. It just doesn’t ignore the idea of same-sex parenting, but also abortions and anything else that may possibly offend someone (while happily devising silly sequences so it can cover circumcisions and whether you should know the baby’s sex beforehand.) I know I shouldn’t expect anything more from a Hollywood comedy, but you know, if "Knocked Up" can do it than I don’t see why this film can’t pay at least lip service to the fact that these concepts exist.
The film does have its moments though - it should be pretty clear that its take on pregnancy falls far closer to the comic than the real, and when it embraces its inherent silliness, the film plays far better. One subplot, with Dennis Quaid as an insanely wealthy NASCAR driver married to alpha-woman Brooklyn Decker (she handles twins with a smile and her eventual delivery of the children provides, perhaps, the films best laugh) works brilliantly because it does indeed seem to take place on a planet slightly removed from ours: Quaid spends his days in a homemade Margaritaville, Decker tattoos her baby bump, and it all leads to a family blow-up that ends with a scene of dialogue done while the actors are racing on golf carts (the vehicular conversational tracking shots really won me over.) I can’t ignore such inspired goofiness.
But you never spend as much time as you want to with the funnier characters. Chris Rock shows up at one point, with his ’dude group,’ to lecture one of the many generic husbands on how to be a dad - this is not as entertaining as it sounds, and you don’t spend nearly as much time on it as you want to. It basically becomes the cheap comedy/baby-bump take on "Short Cuts;" made even worse because all of our characters feel like they come from different films (Lopez’s journey is played for sentiment, Kendrick’s for sympathy, Banks’ for laughs, etc.)
Director Kirk Jones has fun cutting between sequences with match cuts and other connections, but his aesthetic efforts are pretty meaningless when it’s so clear these disjointed subplots are entirely independent of each other (save for one that I shan’t spoil.) Different scribes could have easily written them all, and that’s hardly a good thing - no one here even transcends the archetype they’re given in their first shot.
It’s just another entry in the celebrity ensemble canon, as inconsequential as "Valentine’s Day" and as unfunny as "He’s Just Not That Into You." There are enough universal experiences inherent in pregnancy for parents to see bits and pieces of their own lives in this, but that’s hardly enough to recommend it. Even those who like small parts - like the Chris Rock cameo, or if the silliness of the Quaid or Banks plots works for you - will find themselves tortured by the boring and cliché character arcs surrounding them. The film is a chore to sit through, despite the star-studded cast-list up top - clearly they expected nothing more from this film than a paycheck.