Is it possible that Hollywood has exhausted its supply of good literature, comic books and board games? How else to explain What to Expect When You’re Expecting, a flat-footed comedy that stretches the smallest germ of a concept into a full-term mess?
Inspired by the best-selling self-help manual of the same name by Heidi Murkoff, the movie follows five women on their quest to motherhood, although the only real connection to the book is the prominent positioning of several copies on the shelf of a maternity store owned by Wendy (Elizabeth Banks). She’s married to nebbish-y Gary (Ben Falcone), whose primary job is to look worried while being emasculated by his bully of a father (a gleeful Dennis Quaid), who’s expecting twins of his own with his knockout second wife (Brooklyn Decker). Naturally, there are no swollen ankles for this expectant mother, whose lush supermodel body is lovingly fawned over by the cameras.
Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro play a couple hoping to adopt a baby from Africa. Never has the adoption process appeared so blissfully bump-free and never have two better-looking actors been reduced to such bland ciphers. Anna Kendrick (so fabulous in Up in the Air and the Twilight flicks) finds herself in the family way after a night of passion with a former high school crush (blandly handsome Gossip Girl star Chace Crawford), and Cameron Diaz is an ambitious fitness star who gets knocked up after a fling with her dance partner from a reality TV show.
In case you’re sensing a surfeit of estrogen here, the director Kirk Jones provides a heavy dose of male posturing by way of Chris Rock and his buddy brat-pack, who meet for daily stroller outings in the park. These scenes play like dated stand-up comedy routines about clueless dads and wayward kids. If men saying the word “vagina,” and joking about putting diapers on backwards make you smile, then this is comedy gold.
As is often the case with ensemble comedies, the characters are paper thin, lost in a script which deals mainly in platitudes and clichés. Hackneyed jokes about wild hormonal swings, puking in public and incontinence are the mainstay of the comedy here, and the filmmakers can do nothing to enliven an ending that has the women screaming and panting their way to maternal bliss.
“They say once it’s over, you forget the whole thing” says one character in a post-natal glow. If only the same was true for the audience.
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