Friday, May 18, 2012
Movie review: What to Expect When You’re Expecting
A movie that takes more than a few pregnant pauses.
A good catch-all term has yet to be coined for films that throw a bunch of stars together to play couples with interweaving storylines, but whatever you call them, their numbers are certainly rising. Usually they revolve around some sort of holiday, be it Christmas in Love Actually or the aptly-named Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve. But there are only so many holidays to go around, so studios have also taken to grabbing the rights to non-fiction advice books and constructing plots around the wisdom they provide. The first of that kind was 2009's He's Just Not That Into You, and now comes What to Expect When You're Expecting.
Potential viewers be warned, though -- your enjoyment of the film will likely hinge on whether you've had personal experience with all the joys, frustrations, and craziness surrounding a pregnancy. Even if you have kids, parents with older children -- and therefore some distance from the process -- may not be able to identify as strongly with the proceedings as others. Full disclosure: As the father of a soon-to-be 18-month-old, much of what was shown hit home, even if a lot of it was exaggerated, so that colors my review to a certain degree.
Director Kirk Jones and writers Shauna Cross and Heather Hach do their best to cover all the pregnancy bases. There's Jules and Evan (Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison), a celebrity couple who meet and conceive a baby while on a Dancing with the Stars knock-off; Wendy and Gary (Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone), who have struggled for years to get pregnant, with a dose of irony thrown in since Wendy owns a baby boutique; Ramsey and Skyler (Dennis Quaid and Brooklyn Decker), a May-December couple who live an ultra-charmed life in pretty much all respects, including getting pregnant right after they get married; Holly and Alex (Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro), who have decided to adopt an Ethiopian baby after being unable to conceive themselves; and Rosie and Marco (Anna Kendrick and Chase Crawford), rival food truck owners who find themselves facing parenthood after a one-night stand. And that's not to mention the dads walking group, headed by Chris Rock, that Alex joins to assuage his fears about impending fatherhood.
With these types of movies, you can count on two things -- heightened reality and a boatload of coincidences. And while both of those elements are present in What to Expect..., the filmmakers establish most of the connections early on, greatly cutting down on third-act reveals that strain the level of believability. Also, even though the film includes moments that are less true-to-life and more just going for laughs, the process of bringing another human into the world is more often than not treated with dignity and respect. That doesn't mean the film is a drama -- far from it. But it does mean Jones and company don't treat the audience like complete idiots, serving up much more intelligent entertainment than not.
The impact of each of the actors seems to be in direct proportion to how interesting their respective storylines are. Diaz and Morrison's characters are mostly shallow, so their arc rarely resonates. Kendrick and Crawford are the youngest, and the film struggles to keep them as involved as the others. Quaid and Decker are played mostly for laughs, so they're easy to dismiss. The emotional center of the film comes through the dedication of Banks and Falcone's characters to each other and the struggles of Lopez and Santoro. Both storylines bring home the miracle of the birth the most. And they're balanced out by the comedy of the dads group, which also includes pop-in appearances by a ripped Joe Manganiello.
What to Expect When You're Expecting exceeds expectations by honoring its source material rather than just using it as a springboard to ridiculousness. While it will never be considered a classic, it's definitely a step up from recent ensemble comedies. Those looking for a change of pace from summer blockbusters could do a lot worse.
For showtimes for What to Expect When You're Expecting, click here.