Slavishly adhering to its title, the ensemble comedy “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is rife with every pregnancy trope imaginable. Yup, there’s everything from cankles and flatulence to hemorrhoids and back acne – just to name a few.
Director Kirk Jones (“Everybody’s Fine,” “Waking Ned Devine”) – working from a screenplay by Shauna Cross (“Whip It”) and Heather Hach (“Freaky Friday”) – takes a multi-string approach in telling the conception-to-delivery stories of five couples in a film inspired by the pregnancy manual of the same name by Heidi Eisenberg Murkoff. This isn’t the first time a self-help book has found its way onto the big screen. “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “He’s Just Not That Into You,” were similarly drawn.
And like those book-to-screen adaptations, “What to Expect” is paper-thin in its fleshing out the source’s pontifications on fertility, miscarriage, surprise twins, foreign adoption, advanced maternal age. You’ve heard it all before and will no doubt hear it all again.
The first cookie-cutter character we meet is Cameron Diaz’s Jules, a Jillian Michael’s-type fitness guru on a kind-of “Biggest Loser” show. Jules meets her baby-daddy, Evan (“Glee’s” Matthew Morrison), on his “Dancing With the Stars”-type show. Will they be able to balance their demanding careers and pending parenthood?
When we catch up with Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and Gary (Ben Falcone), they’ve decided to table IVF after years of failing to conceive. Naturally, it finally happens, pitting Gary against his NASCAR-legend father (Dennis Quaid) and curvy stepmother, Skyler (swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker, surprisingly funny as an Atlanta trophy wife), who coincidentally is preggers, too.
Jennifer Lopez, last seen on film reading “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” in the “Back-up Plan,” is struggling photographer Holly. She and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) hope to adopt a baby from Ethiopia.
Rounding out this baby business are 20-somethings Rosie (Anna Kendrick, always enjoyable) and Marco (Chace Crawford). Marco slips one past the goalie one careless night and the young couple becomes faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
The best humor is based in truth, and believe me, the 40 weeks of pregnancy offers plenty of fodder. But seriously, how many “I-just-peed-myself” jokes can one movie proffer?
Wendy (Banks) is the most relatable character. Diaz and Decker might bear baby bumps but their thighs and butt scream size 0. Plus, no one carrying twins wears 5-inch stilettos. A lactation expert and pregnancy authority, Wendy is experiencing the highs, and mostly lows, of pregnancy. She waddles around with a bottle of Tums, wondering where her “glow” has gone. She’s anxious about childbirth, motherhood, and feels like crap. There’s truth to her experience.
The laughs are intermittent and none came from the men in the audience with whom I saw the film. This is a chick-flick, on all levels, right down to weaving in a clip of the female-favorite “Dirty Dancing.” Naturally, it’s the climatic “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” line that can be heard in the background.
Page 2 of 2 - To inject some testosterone into this estrogen extravaganza, Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon, Amir Talai and Rob Huebel show up pushing strollers as members of a weekly dads’ group that enables them to divulge truths they’d never utter to their wives. What’s the first rule of the Dudes Group? No one reveals what happens or is said at Dudes Group. The guys take Alex under their wing to groom him for fatherhood, but end up scaring the pants off him.
The stories of all the couples start out separately and then slowly intertwine with each passing trimester. Eventually everyone ends up at the same hospital on the same night. Holy coincidence!
Even in the moments that are meant to be sweet and telling, the film is nothing but clichés and contrivances. In fact, the whole thing felt labored.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING
(PG-13 for crude and sexual content, thematic elements and language). Cast includes, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Chace Crawford, Brooklyn Decker, Anna Kendrick, Matthew Morrison, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock. 2 stars out of 4.