We have two children, which means there’s a copy of Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel’s pre-birth Bible What to Expect When You’re Expecting on our bookshelf. Two, in fact. You get them as shower gifts. I’m staring at them as I write this review. I remember my wife thumbing through the pages at different stages of both of our pregnancies. I’d be lying if I said I ever picked the book up.
On the surface, that’s an analogy for Kirk Jones’ ensemble-comedy adaptation of the self-help guide – appealing to women, appalling to men. Though now that I’ve seen it, I’d once again be lying if I said What to Expect didn’t have something in there for guys (primarily if those guys are dads) who are coaxed into a screening on date night. And when the whole predictable shebang climbs into its metaphorical Baby Bjorn and carries itself to the delivery room for a series of simultaneous birthing sequences – did you expect anything less? – those of you with heartwarming memories of welcoming your own newborn into this world will get a little choked up. And no, I wasn’t expecting Expecting to touch me in that way, either.
With no fewer than 12 significant characters, Expecting easily could have been shaped and shifted into a season-long sitcom instead of the star-studded, Valentine’s Day-inspired comedy Lionsgate shepherds into theaters. And the first bit of credit I’ll pay to Jones (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) is that the four main women carrying conflicting storylines to term are given enough time to develop the highs and lows of their soap-opera-complicated nine-month journeys.
There’s fitness guru Jules (Cameron Diaz), who’s impregnated by her handsome Dancing with the Stars partner Evan (Matthew Morrison), even though a baby wasn’t in their plans. Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), on the other hand, is obsessed with getting pregnant … which helps explain why she and her doting husband, Gary (Ben Falcone), are having issues. So are Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and her handsome boyfriend Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), who are going the adoption route if they can win over a skeptical social worker (Kim “Tootie” Fields!!). Fertility isn’t an issue for young Rosie (Anna Kendrick). Though most of her time is spent running a busy food truck in Atlanta, her one-night stand with rival cook Marco (Chace Crawford) lands a bun in her oven.
Have you picked up a burping towel and fashioned it into the white flag of surrender yet? Because if you made it this far and are still interested, grab a What to Expect ticket and go. Jones actually keeps the ball bouncing, and the Expecting plots – if you want to call them that – hum along with nary a hang up. Mostly, situations constructed by screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach are loose excuses to poke fun at pregnancy staples: swollen ankles, mood swings, cravings. Then Jones bravely attempts to push the envelope, giving one character an uncomfortable miscarriage subplot so he can explore the effect that might have on a couple in flux.
When What works, it’s because genuinely funny people are elevating tempered material. Banks wrings sympathetic laughs in a hormonal rant about pregnancy’s discomforts. Chris Rock, Rob Huebel, Amir Talai and Thomas Lennon form the “Men’s Group,” a father’s answer to Fight Club that allows members to vent without judgment. “Don’t talk about what we walk about” is their mantra, though they’re really just here so the men in the audience have something to talk about after.
If Expect nails one aspect of childbirth, it captures the speed of it all. One minute you are a relatively unburdened human being with a career, free time, and the ability to stay up late and sleep in until noon. The next minute, if fate conspires, you could be a parent. If you happen to be one, Jones has made a halfway decent comedy for you. Get a sitter for your kids and enjoy.