Saturday, May 19, 2012


When it comes to "What to Expect When You're Expecting," what you end up failing to expect is how bad the whole affair turns out to be. Based on Heidi Murkoff's bestselling 1984 self-help book of the same name, the thing about this fictional adaptation is that even the title is a sham. This doesn't even begin to prepare expecting mothers at all for what to expect when they're expecting. Unless their life is, well I don't know, a Hollywood movie.

Director Kirk Jones seems to be channeling his inner Garry Marshall as this clearly will remind audiences of his big ensemble rom-coms "Valentine's Day" and "New Year's Eve," but this time with pregnancy. Instead of watching glamorous A-list stars fall in love, we're watching them take the next step of childbearing. Still glamorous, and still coated in swift manufacturing and a shine of high-gloss. It's all so overly produced that you'll wonder if you're watching mannequins instead of real people.

The screenplay gives us every type of expecting mother. Not to mention every type of unique and colorful job imaginable perhaps required to not confuse one character with another. We begin with Jules (Cameron Diaz), a tough-love weight-loss TV guru who just won a celebrity dance show with her boyfriend, Evan (Matthew Morrison). Next is Holly (Jennifer Lopez), a famous photographer who, wouldn't you know it, does underwater scuba photo shoots. She and her husband, Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), plan to adopt a baby from Ethiopia.

Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) is perhaps the most down-to-earth with her husband Gary (Ben Falcone). A bookshop owner and renowned breast feeding advocate, she and her hubby have been trying to conceive for years. All unsuccessful attempts -- until now. But, of course, there's more. Gary is constantly having to put up with his overly competitive dad (Dennis Quaid) who is, wouldn't you know it, having twins with his much younger blonde bombshell of a wife, Skyler (Brooklyn Decker). Overshadowed by his dad yet again.

Then there's the youngest couple with the competing food trucks. After playfully betting over who gets the most business from an event at which they're both vending, Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford) have a one-night stand and, wouldn't you know it, she gets knocked up. Interlaced between these five couples is the "Fight Club" styled baby daddy group who banter over stroller outings. It's meant to bring in the laughs, but it mostly falls flat as hard as Chris Rock, the ring-leader of the group, may try.

The Jennifer Lopez storyline comes across as a recycled version of "The Back-Up Plan," or whatever that was. That and the celebrity couple scenes become painfully uninteresting, like a pick your poison of predictable story arcs. It's all sugar-coated and sweet, mostly light and reassuring. There are flutters of dark moments, but they're never warranted. It's too superficial with nothing genuine, every character exaggerated into a caricature. There have to be more honest movies about pregnancy out there like perhaps Jessica Westfeldt's "Friends With Kids."

What keeps it from being flat-out excruciating is the highlight of a pregnant freak-out exhibited by Elizabeth Banks, the movie's only moment of real humor. She teams up nicely with two small-role players from "Bridesmaids," Rebel Wilson and Ben Falcone. Also appreciated is the low-key effort from Oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford who make their relationship the most real.

Still, though, much like the upchucking of the featured mothers-to-be, each storyline here is regurgitating the same tropes and end moral; that is, being pregnant sucks, small children are an inconvenience, but it becomes all worth it in the end when, as a new parent, you're holding that little bundle of a miracle in your arms.

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