This is the kind of movie film critics love to hate. It’s got an ensemble cast featuring some of Hollywood’s trendiest A-listers. It’s got multiple, intertwining plotlines about relationshippy stuff. It’s got women doing things with their bodies that do not involve posing suggestively in spandex while fighting CGI monsters.
But it’s also funny – pretty darn funny, as it turns out.
Forget the Hollywood ideal of the tasteful little “baby bump” and the easy bliss of motherhood. Here our star character, Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), is a full-on, Goodyear-blimp-sized, sweating pool of preggo. (In this movie, a baby bump is what your kid gets when he falls down a flight of stairs.) Her husband, Gary (Ben Falcone), is dealing with Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), his overly competitive ex-racecar driver father. Ramsey’s younger, trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker) is pregnant with twins and insists on calling Gary “son,” even though, as Gary points out, she was born in 1987.
The rest of the main cast consists of three more couples who find themselves “expecting” — some on purpose, some . . . on too many beers and a car hood. Cameron Diaz plays a celebrity fitness guru expecting a child with her dance partner, played by Matthew Morrison. Jennifer Lopezand Rodrigo Santoro are married yuppies who have tried fertility treatments and are now planning to adopt. The younger characters, played by Anna Kendrick and Chance Crawford, are competing food truck chefs whose one night of passion has led to something more serious.
The main cast is fine, but the film’s secondary characters are the ones who run away with the most laughs. What’s not to love about Chris Rockstrutting through a film with three babies strapped to his chest like some kind of wiggling, drooling suicide-bomber vest? He is Vic, the leader of Dudes’ Group, a group of fathers who walk with their babies in the park. His son Jordan (Reginald and Resan Womack) commands attention from the audience, if not from his father, as he toddles from one near-disaster to another, occasionally dragging dead animals out from under the shrubbery. Dudes’ Group may ruffle the feathers of some helicopter parents out there, but these scenes are a fun commentary on our society’s dedication to obsessively hands-on, hand-holding childrearing.
Other honorable mentions go to Rebel Wilson as Wendy’s assistant, Janice, who can always be counted on to bring the weirdness, and Reno 911divas Thomas Lennon and Wendy McLendon-Covey, who play a married couple still arguing over the name of their one-year-old.
The film takes its name from Heidi Murkoff’s bestselling self-help book, but outside the fact that both are about pregnancy, the two seem to have little in common. The film is mercifully short on cheesy tributes to the beauty of breeding or high-minded advice about how to do it the right way. There’s no self-help here. These couples are just trying to survive the baby-building.
The film’s main flaw is that its plotlines are woven from the airy fabric of conventional, upper-middle-class heterosexual norms. Though a couple of storylines do hint at some of the tragedies that can accompany pregnancy, mostly, this is pregnancy in rom-coms-ville. Thus, the film avoids addressing most of pregnancy’s real troubles – money woes, abandonment, and you know, the fact that some pregnant people don’t want to have babies. Some viewers have seemed disappointed that, as in other preggers comedies, abortion is never a real option in the film. So if you’re looking for something deeper, look elsewhere. Otherwise, just enjoy this film for what it is: mostly light-hearted fun-poking at the insanity that is procreation. (Besides, hasn’t Sarah Silverman already pretty much cornered the abortion-comedy market?)
And really, this film is mostly just a vehicle for Tom Lennon’s knees.
Unfortunately for ticket sales, many moviegoers in this film’s target demographic are, let’s face it, busy living the dream. They’re chasing toddlers around, helping with science fair projects, taking grand tours of the world’s pediatricians’ offices and soccer fields. They just want to sleep. And maybe when they do get a night out, they don’t want to think about pregnancy, babies, families, or anything that doesn’t involve hard alcohol. Still, they could probably use a good laugh at the silliness involved in creating and raising other humans. However, don’t assume you have to be a parent to enjoy this film. Even if you have about as much interest in pregnancy as you do in dodgeball, you may yet find yourself entertained by comedies about both these things.
Final Verdict: This is an ensemble comedy that does exactly what it’s supposed to do: deliver an hour-plus of belly laughs and light-hearted plot. Its storylines will be basically forgettable, as are those of so many comedies, but overall, What to Expect When You’re Expecting is better than expected.