Jennifer Lopez as Holly
Cameron Diaz as Jules
Elizabeth Banks as Wendy
Matthew Morrison as Evan
Ben Falcone as Colin
Rodrigo Santoro as Alex
Anna Kendrick as Rosie
Chace Crawford as Marco
Dennis Quaid as Ramsey
Brooklyn Decker as Skyler
Chris Rock as Vic
Rebel Wilson as Janice
Wendi McLendon-Covey as Kara
Rob Huebel as Gale
Joe Manganiello as Davis
Directed by Kirk Jones
This might sound obvious, but I don’t think Hollywood thinks much of women. Or at least they think exactly as much of them as they do of young teenaged males, offering up the same generic paste filled with clichés of previous films. Not because they appeal to anyone or tell anyone anything, but because they are easy to describe and thus, in theory, easy to sell. You know that bit in that movie you liked? This one is just like that.
So it’s also obvious that “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is just like any other woman-oriented slice of life comedy with little to distinguish it from movies covering the same territory beyond being slightly more muddled than the best of them.
In this case, that territory is pregnancy and motherhood, which “What to Expect” purports to cast in a new light by telling us how pregnancy really is with all of its pain, gas and bloating. Naturally, in someone’s mind, hilarity must ensue.
The muddling comes from the decision to break the story up into a group of loosely-related vignettes which occasionally overlap but rarely interconnect as several families deal with the reality of pregnancy. There’s TV-fitness guru Jules (Cameron Diaz) who doesn’t let anything get in the way of her TV career or her desires, including pregnancy and father-to-be Evan (Matthew Morrison). At the other end of the spectrum is baby-supply store owner Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) — who thinks she knows everything there is to know about mommy-ing until she finally does get pregnant and photographer Holly (Jennifer Lopez), who won’t let an inability to conceive or a reluctant husband stop her from getting a baby.
Little related to pregnancy occurs in “What to Expect” that hasn’t already been covered in exactly the same way in every sitcom or film comedy which has come close to the subject. As a rule of thumb, no film about pregnancy which includes a de rigueur scene of a woman in labor screaming at her doctor for her epidural and cursing her husband for putting her in that position can call itself the true story of anything. Except maybe “what I have absorbed from watching television.”
That wouldn’t be so much irritating as boring if “What to Expect” didn’t lurch about so much from bad stabs at comedy to successful stabs at drama. Most of that drama is wrapped up in Marco (Chace Crawford) and Rosie (Annie Kendrick), a pair of twenty-something food-truck chefs whose one-night stand threatens to turn into a lifetime commitment. When they are around, “What to Expect” actually achieves the depths of emotion it pretends to be after. The fact that their story is by far the briefest suggests what the filmmakers are really focusing on, because the filmmakers have no faith in their ability to make you care.
Nor much, really, in their ability to make you laugh. When the well-worn stabs at pregnancy humor run out, rather than try to develop something out of what they have, they quickly turn to other comedy clichés just to deepen the muddle.
The majority of Wendy and Colin’s story quickly turns from their reaction to her pregnancy to an ongoing one-sided feud with obliviously competitive dad Ramsey (Dennis Quaid) and his model-slim new wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker). And no one can seem to decide what Holly and Alex’s story is about, letting it get hijacked by the dad group (Chris Rock and friends) who school Alex on what fatherhood is really about all while reveling in all the oldest clueless dad jokes.
To be fair, Quaid and Rock and their bits actually are the best parts of the movie, more because of talent of delivery than actual merit, and it’s obvious why they were given precedence. On the other hand, if the core of your story is so weak you have to lean on supporting characters to make it worthwhile; you don’t really have a story to begin with.
And that sums up “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” perfectly. It’s not a film. It’s the worst kind of marketed pabulum, given to its audience by people who think it’s okay to keep repeating the same jokes because that’s what people really want.