What happens when a movie made specifically for one half of the population fails to appeal to even that half? You get something like “What To Expect When You’re Expecting”. Not quite a total failure, but certainly an unsuccessful, uninspired effort that falls flat on almost every level.
To be fair, this is far from the worst chick flick I’ve ever seen. Even as a male viewer I can appreciate the movie on its merits, however few of those it possesses. The cast is mostly solid, with genre stalwarts Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz giving star-power turns that rise above the weak material. Then there are actresses like Anna Kendrick and Elizabeth Banks, lending an air of freshness to otherwise stale characters simply by virtue of being less expected choices for this genre. They’re not Katherine Heigl, and that’s always a good thing. The male cast is a bit more spotty, quality-wise. Dennis Quaid flexes his seldom-used comedic muscles as an Alpha Male Dad, and he’s the standout among the guys. The rest range from mildly amusing (Ben Falcone as Quaid’s downtrodden son), to handsome but bland (Chace Crawford and Rodrigo Santoro), to slightly annoying (Chris Rock and his posse of emasculated dads).
It’s quite a feat that the performers manage to make ANY sort of impression at all. There’s just so little for them to latch on to. The film is loosely based on the bestselling book of the same name by Heidi Murkoff. As adaptations go, they don’t get any looser than this. The book is a non-fiction pregnancy guide, sort of like a how-to manual for the baby bump. The filmmakers clearly saw the brand name value of the title, and exploited it for everything it was worth. Which isn’t wrong in itself, since it allows writers to invent from scratch. They could’ve come up with all kinds of compelling stories and characters built around the central premise of impending motherhood, and all the joys, the fears, the pitfalls and the possibilities that come with it. Yet this is what screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hatch came up with. Clichéd characters in formulaic situations that we’ve seen in countless rom-coms. There aren’t even any genuine insights or revelations to be had about one of humankind’s most life-affirming, life-changing experiences. The deepest food for thought we get here is that being pregnant is tough. Wow, big surprise.
While I’m not terribly bothered about how the film doesn’t quite live up to the educational aspects of its source material, I cannot tolerate its sheer laziness as a work of entertainment. It never feels like it’s trying. Instead, it’s content to coast along on the likability of its cast and the limited emotional mileage from the sad situations its characters are faced with. There are a number of touching moments, but those are far and few in between.
Worst of all, for a comedy it’s just not very funny. When the biggest laughs come from a recurring gag about a toddler falling down/getting hit by stuff, that’s not a good sign. I blame director Kirk Jones’ poor grip on the proceedings. It’s not impossible to squeeze a half-decent movie out of a formulaic script, especially when you’ve got good actors at your disposal. He simply doesn’t have a sense of pace or comic timing. Scenes tend to drag on longer than they should, and the intercutting between different stories flows poorly. This general lethargy permeates everything, even dampening the cast’s best efforts to be funny.
By the time the ending ambled in with a everyone-is-connected plot contrivance, I could tell the women in the audience were a little fidgety, where they should’ve been completely caught up. ”What To Expect When You’re Expecting” is not an offensively bad movie. It’s just an inert, forgettable affair with the barest amount of charm and amusement to nudge it into the mediocre category.
There isn’t much here for women to savour, and even less for men. So, unless you set your expectations way low, you might want to avoid this one.