As a single male approaching 30 with no children of my own, I can safely say that I wasn’t expecting What to Expect When You’re Expecting to be as good as it was. It wasn’t great, but it was certainly light years better than other movies of this sort. Applying theLove Actually styled “everything but the kitchen sink” motif to the best selling non-fictional guide by Heidi Murkoff, this romantic comedy features some genuinely sharp writing and mostly decent performances. It bears almost no resemblance to the books it’s based on, but it’s also far better than it has any right to be.
Set predominantly in Atlanta and Los Angeles, director Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee, Waking Ned Devine) looks at four loosely linked stories of couples expecting children. A fitness guru and reality TV star (Cameron Diaz) and a professional dancer (Matthew Morrison) have to juggle their careers and the distance that often comes between them. The owner of a store for potential mothers (Elizabeth Banks) finally conceives after months of trying with her husband (Ben Falcone), but they have their own joyous thunder stolen by his competitive retired NASCAR driver father (Dennis Quaid) and his trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker) expecting twins of their own. A pair of young, rival food truck owners (Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford) have to mature very quickly after an ill fated late night hook-up. And finally, a freelance photographer incapable of having children of her own (Jennifer Lopez) looks to adopt a child from Africa despite financial instability and a potentially waffling husband (Rodrigo Santoro).
With so much ground to cover, it’s admirable that the film gets the job done in less than two hours when many films of this style would be tempted to push past that. Still, not every storyline works despite some good performances. The best of the bunch is easily the storyline fleshed out for Banks, since it has a concrete beginning, middle, and end. They also get the lion’s share of the film’s consistent laughs. Had the entire movie been made about these characters, it might have even been a much better movie without everything else taking away from the central conceit. Maybe if they were the only characters in the film, the sub-subplot involving Quaid and Decker (both of whom show real comedic range) wouldn’t feel as out of place. But alas, we have three other stories with various levels of success.
The thread involving Diaz and Morrison is fine, and both actors do a great job, but their story never heads anywhere interesting, with their minor fights holding little weight and their careers adding little to no tension, but at least it goes somewhere, unlike the plight of Kendrick and Crawford. It’s hard to talk about their storyline without getting into spoiler territory, because technically they have to do most of the dramatic heavy lifting. Unfortunately, Kendrick (who’s excellent and proves here to be an actress who can sell anything put in front of her) has her most dramatic moment told through a clichéd montage set to a pop song, effectively killing any real form of sentiment of drama in favour of a shortcut that reeks of test audiences thinking the film was getting too depressing.
As for Lopez, the movie seems to forget about her character for longer than it probably should, making her a non-entity in her own story to instead focus on Santoro’s bonding with a group of fathers (Chris Rock, Rob Huebel, Thomas Lennon, and Amir Telai) that function as a support group away from their wives. The peripheral characters here are so strong (including a hilarious turn from Joe Manganiello as the single workout enthusiast and ladies man everyone in the group wants to be like), that they point out the biggest flaw in this story. That being that Santoro is flat out terrible in this role. He couldn’t look less interested if he were playing with a Rubik’s Cube while delivering his lines. His disinterest is life draining, so thank God for the casting of some great comic types to offset how awkward Santoro looks. Also, big congratulations to Jones for being one of the few people to figure out how to put the perpetually misused Rock to good use.
But despite the quibbles, What to Expect When You’re Expecting hits more jokes than it misses, making it a relatively painless experience for any guys or girls dragged kicking and screaming to this by significant others or girlfriends. If given the choice between this or staying home and watching the latest Garry Marshall shitfest, I would be on my knees begging and pleading to see this instead. What you can expect, at the very least, is to be entertained.
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Brooklyn Decker, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock
Directed by: Kirk Jones
Top image: A scene from What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Courtesy Alliance Films.