What to Expect When You’re Expecting is another unfortunate example of what happens when real self-help book advice is applied to the plot of a romantic comedy. Having just a few weeks ago suffered through the joyless Think Like a Man, we have yet again a strained, unfocused, badly developed relationship farce that focuses more on slapstick gags and verbal jabs than on genuinely funny scenarios. This is a shame because I have no doubt that pregnancy and parenthood can in fact be quite funny – that is, in the hands of filmmakers who have a deeper understanding of actual people. There is virtually no truth to any of the characters in this movie. They’re more like byproducts from a particularly bad sitcom pilot. A select few are so bizarre and shockingly out of place that they seem to have been transported from an alternate universe.
Taking place in mostly in Atlanta, the film takes cues from recent romcoms like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve by dividing itself into several interconnecting vignettes. All of them feature couples on the verge of having a baby. There’s Jules (Cameron Diaz), a trainer on a weight-loss reality show obviously modeled after The Biggest Loser, and her boyfriend, Evan (Matthew Morrison), a dancer on a reality show obviously modeled after Dancing with the Stars. The two met when Jules was the celebrity contestant. Although she’s pregnant, her can-do attitude motivates her to continue as a trainer. It also inflates her superiority complex, as she believes only she knows what’s best for her baby. The biggest argument she and Evan have is over whether or not their son should be circumcised. Discover for yourself who’s for it and who’s against it.
There’s Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), the owner of a baby boutique who has just published a kids book on breastfeeding, and her husband, Gary (Ben Falcone), who was once a contestant on Jules’ weight loss show. Wendy is not feeling the glow of pregnancy; she’s constantly in some kind of physical pain, and because her hormones are all out of whack, she has become overly emotional. Gary is constantly in competition with his father, a former racecar driver named Ramsey (Dennis Quaid). As it turns out, Ramsey’s new wife, a much younger woman named Skyler (Brooklyn Decker), is pregnant with twins. Even in the advanced stages of her pregnancy, Skyler remains gorgeous and unburdened with physical ailments such as a weak bladder, swollen ankles, and an aching back. It’s almost as if she’s showing off to Wendy.
There’s Holly (Jennifer Lopez), a freelance photographer who specializes in baby portraits, and her husband, Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), a music producer. Unable to conceive, they decide to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. Alex isn’t sure he’s ready to be a father. Seeking advice, he becomes privy to a secretive band of dads known as The Dudes (Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon, Amir Talai, and Rob Huebel), who walk around pushing strollers and carrying infants in baby slings. Their two rules of conduct are: (1) Whatever The Dudes talk about must stay between them; and (2) there can be no judging each other for “the stuff that just happens” to their kids. In other words, no squealing about obvious signs of parental irresponsibility. For some unknown reason, all four of them idolize a muscle-bound jogger named Davis (Joe Manganiello), who wows them every time he does shirtless pull-ups.
The single weakest subplot features two young food truck owners locked in a turf war. This would be Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford). It’s a reunion of sorts; they dated in high school, although Marco’s reputation as a player repeatedly got in the way. Decency prevents me from giving away too much of this subplot, although I will say that, given the fact that this film is supposed to be about the ups and downs of traditional pregnancy, these characters stick out like a sore thumb. They would have been much better off in a film devoted entirely to their relationship – provided, of course, that it was left in the capable hands of intelligent filmmakers.
All the births happen on the same night and in the same hospital. I can’t begrudge the director or screenwriters a little dramatic license. I can, however, blame them for allowing drastic shifts in tone; just when we think it’s all about desperately broad birthing gags, we’re suddenly broadsided by a near-tragic turn of events. If you’re not skilled enough to walk the fine line between comedy and drama in a single scene, it’s probably best you just stick to one or the other. The problem with What to Expect When You’re Expecting is that neither genre is handled particularly well. Any potential bouts of laughter or tears are at the mercy of manufactured scenarios that no couple or parent is likely to find relatable. A good comedy knows how to connect with its audience. A bad one does goofy things with only the hope that someone will laugh. Guess which category this movie falls into?
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