You’ve come a wrong way, baby
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, May 18, 2012
Since it was first published in 1984, Heidi Murkoff’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” the go-to pregnancy guide with the colorful, quilt-patterned cover, has landed in the hands of an endless stream of expectant moms and dads. The book’s mission is clear: to shed light on the scary, exhilarating phase known as new parenthood.
The intentions of the ensemble film comedy that shares the book’s title are less obvious. Is director Kirk Jones’s film a farce, populated by crazy caricatures? Or is it a crash course in every potential prenatal complication? How about a dramatic account of failed pregnancy attempts and first bonds? The movie turns out to be a little of everything yet succeeds only occasionally at anything.
The big-name actors arrive on-screen in pairs, marching two-by-two toward the pitfalls of first-time parenthood. The characters include Jules (Cameron Diaz), a me-me-me type of a workout fanatic who hosts a fictionalized “The Biggest Loser” and meets Evan (Matthew Morrison) on a show that resembles “Dancing With the Stars.” When she becomes pregnant after just a few months of secretly dating him, the couple has to navigate some sticking points, including matching his-and-hers oversize egos, which are not so easily shelved as monogrammed towels.
A more serious and relatable couple, Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), have dealt with fertility problems, money problems and -- once they get the chance to adopt a baby from Ethiopia -- a case of cold feet. These two couples alone could fill out a movie’s minutes, but the pairs keep coming. Food-truck proprietor Rosie (Anna Kendrick) faces the implications of a one-night stand with her professional competition, Marco (Chace Crawford); Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and Gary (Ben Falcone) finally get positive news after two years of ovulation alerts; and Gary’s retired race-car-driving father, Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), finds out that his trophy wife, Skyler (Brooklyn Decker), is expecting twins.
The most enjoyable portions of the movie have little to do with any of those characters. When Alex wanders into a “dude’s group,” essentially a Greek chorus of dads, the moment arrives for funnyman Chris Rock to steal the show as Vic. He and his posse strut onto the scene in slow motion, BabyBjorned and pushing strollers to the tune of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa.” These recurring sequences offer a chance for the guys to admit their foibles -- dropping kids off changing tables and into toilets -- but also to sing the praises of fatherhood, which is surprisingly sweet.
The dialogue, facial expressions and comic timing of these talented actors are enough to carry the scenes, but once again screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach take something that works and throw on unnecessary additions. In this case, a repeated sight gag involving Vic’s accident-prone son falling prey to various obstacles pushes the limits of comedy. A similarly horrified reaction may arise during a scene involving a golf cart sailing into a swimming pool full of people. The punch line may prove less amusing than alarming for those with even a hint of maternal (or paternal) instincts.
The outlandish moments reach their heights with Wendy’s story, but Banks manages to add some realism to her role of a woman struggling with the less-glowing aspects of pregnancy, including nausea, flatulence and hemorrhoids. If those afflictions ring true for some moms, other bits, such as when a woman delivers effortlessly while sneezing, exist only in Hollywood. The reality-fantasy paradox means audience members may get left behind when the film shifts into more serious terrain to contemplate lost jobs, lost pregnancies and life-threatening losses of blood.
For nearly 30 years, Murkoff’s book has maintained its staying power by giving readers precisely what its title implies. But what to expect from the movie? Among the hodgepodge of near-death moments and slapstick pratfalls, it’s anybody’s guess.
Contains language and sexual content.