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The day I saw What To Expect When You're Expecting, I was anxiously awaiting the results of the vote on North Carolina's Amendment One, which amended the state's constitution to add language that didn't just ban gay marriage, but domestic partnerships for couples gay and straight. It jeopardized a lot of things for gay couples in that state, from health insurance to hospital visitation to marriage itself, and it rang clearly for me as I thought of my best friend, married to another woman and making plans for a baby in the near future-- a baby the state just made it incredibly difficult for them to have.
Because I am straight, if and when I have kids it will probably play out more like what you see among the straight, largely white couples in What To Expect When You're Expecting, where the most unusual pregnancy happens as a result of a one-night stand between twentysomethings played by Anna Kendrick and Chace Cawford. But with North Carolina on the brain, I got increasingly frustrated with What To Expect for depicting only the easiest, most traditional routes to parenthood, at a time when the definition of "family" is expanding so greatly. Same-sex parents have been raising kids together openly for decades, and are doing so more and more frequently, but to look at What to Expect-- and, let's face it, most mainstream movies in existence-- parenthood is strictly reserved for straight couples, just like the North Carolina voters would want it.
And it's not like gay parenting is as controversial a topic as, say, abortion--a subject What To Expect also avoids entirely, despite featuring a character like Kendrick's who would likely at least consider the option before going forward with an unexpected pregnancy. For three seasons of TV's Modern Family we've watched gay couple Cameron and Mitchell raise their adopted daughter Lily, and they've even announced plans to bring in another child; this isn't some envelope-pushing fringe show, but a multiple Emmy-winner and ratings success that's one of ABC's biggest hits. It's a weird twist to have television suddenly become less conservative than movies, but it happens more and more these days, as movies strain to appeal to broader and broader international audiences while TV shows are willing to cultivate a voice, or in the case of Modern Family, simply represent what the actual world has become.
In this interview with Hollywood.com, both screenwriters Heather Hach and Shauna Cross-- who took over the script from Hach "like a baton in a relay"-- admit there was a gay couple in early drafts of the script, but they were eventually excised. Cross says they were trying to avoid comparisons to Modern Family, and that they "definitely" plan to include a gay couple in a potential sequel, but then she also spends the interview talking about how she brought in the "dudes group"-- consisting of Chris Rock, Rob Huebel, Thomas Lennon and Amir Talai-- to get a much-needed male perspective on parenting. Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family have been providing that male parent perspective on TV for 3 years now-- wouldn't it have been easy to give a different gay couple a turn? And if they were honestly concerned about seeming to copy other stories, they wouldn't have whole heartedly embraced the half-dozen other movie cliches that are sprinkled throughout the rest of the film.
In a way it's unfair to push these expectations on to What To Expect When You're Expecting, which is a very mainstream, very broad Hollywood movie, happily ensconced in an industry that embraced something like the Hays Code well into the 1960s. But just as movies are entitled to shrink away from controversy and attempt to be everything to everybody, we are entitled to reject them, to ask them to become something more or risk total irrelevancy. Keep the tailored wardrobes, eye-poppingly big apartments and cutesy dialogue that are the hallmarks of the romantic comedy genre-- that's what we always expect, and want, in films that are intended to be an escape. But the more romantic comedies insist that it's just straight, mostly white people who fall in love and have babies, the more they get away from reality-- and the more they risk us turning to television to see stories that actually resonate.