Babies are so trendy right now. That’s why it’s no wonder that in this age of bump watch, celebrity baby mania and yummy mummies (shudder), Hollywood would think to hussle the ultimate tome to impending motherhood, Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel’s almost 30-year-old What to Expect When You’re Expecting, to the big screen.
No matter that it’s a self-help book that mostly discusses the more…er, physical realities of pregnancy and not exactly akin to narrative adaptation. That small detail is no match for the studio think tank! They’ll just snatch the super recognizable title, chuck the rest of the book and cast a bunch of big name stars to wear fake bellies and cute maternity clothes! Foolproof, right? Wrong – What to Expect When You’re Expecting: The Movie simply doesn’t deliver.
Director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine), operating in full-on Garry Marshall mode, and screenwriters Shauna Cross (Whip It) and Heather Hach (Freaky Friday) centre the film around 5 couples who are about to become parents.
There’s Cameron Diaz as a Jillian Michaels-like fitness trainer who gets knocked up by Matthew Morrison (Glee), her TV dancing partner. Jennifer Lopez is a baby/aquarium photographer (yeah, I didn’t get it either) who’s planning to adopt an Ethiopian baby with her husband Rodrigo Santoro (Lost). Anna Kendrick (50/50) and Chace Crawford (Gossip Girl) are former high school sort of-sweethearts who now operate dueling food trucks and find themselves expecting a baby after a one-night fling.
And finally, breastfeeding expert Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games) and her schlumpy husband Ben Falcone (Bridesmaids) finally conceive after 2 years of trying only to be trumped his rich, competitive daddy, Dennis Quaid, who impregnates his sweet but dopey trophy wife Brooklyn Decker (Battleship) with twins.
Thankfully Chris Rock and his Daddy Club – a lovable bunch of goofs who spend Saturdays at the park with their kids and other Fathers who won’t judge them for letting their kids get caught in a soccer net or accidentally roll off a changing table – are present to save us from the anaemic schlock and near-constant espousing of traditional, “one mom, one dad and baby makes three” values. Rock’s more-than-likely off the cuff observations on parenthood are far sharper and funnier than the rest of the film in its entirety.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting follows the same pattern as “gems” like New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day or He’s Just Not That Into You (also based on a self-help book) wherein a basic theme is stated, several couples going through similar scenarios are introduced and as their stories progress, they pass in and out of one another’s lives. It’s not a bad idea, it’s just been done to death and in most of those cases the resulting films have been less than stellar (Love Actually is one of the few exceptions to that rule). This one is no different. The film and its (in some cases barely) intersecting stories have a cobbled together feel that detracts from the few genuinely good moments.
Ultimately, What to Expect When You’re Expecting and its narrow view of parenthood is just a deeply uninteresting film that, despite being about the supposedly grand miracle of child birth, has nothing miraculous whatsoever to say about the the subject at all. In fact, one might say its take on the matter is positively still born.
What To Expect When You're Expecting delivers a stale plot, mostly underwritten characters and almost no joy. Expect little and you may not be entirely disappointed.