Stars: Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lopez, Brooklyn Decker, Dennis Quaid, Matthew Morrison, Rodrigo Santoro, Chris Rock, Ben Falcone, Chase Crawford, Rob Huebel, Rebel Wilson and Thomas Lennon.
Writers: Shauna Cross and Heather Hach (based upon the book by Heidi Murkoff).
Director: Kirk Jones
Running time: 109 minutes
As a parent of two, I am familiar with Heidi Murkoff’s handbook-for-the-recently-fertilised, having (mostly) read and re-read it as my world around me changed. I don’t recall thinking “This would make a great film!” In fact, I took comfort knowing that some of the more graphic passages would remain on the page. I also missed the bit about golf-cart races and old Nascar drivers that director Kirk Jones integrates into his very, very loose adaptation.
Along with writers Shauna Cross and Heather Hach and the visionary people who market Lionsgate movies, Jones had no such trouble seeing where the potential lay in adapting the self-help bestseller. The template they would use – starry ensemble casts acting out self-contained vignettes in the cutest way possible - had proved popular with audiences, if not critics, in recent years (He’s Just Not That Into You; Valentine’s Day; New Year’s Eve).
So we get a barren J.Lo heading to Africa to adopt; accidently-impregnated fitness guru Cameron Diaz losing control of her most prized possession – her body; prim suburbanite Elizabeth Banks (the film’s biggest asset) suffering through all the worst aspects of being knocked up; and Brooklyn Decker as the ridiculously perfect mum-to-be (in the most ridiculously silly sub-plot). Anna Kendrick adds weight (no pun intended) as the accidental-mum who must cope with a terrible loss and a floundering romantic entanglement; Jones seems to enjoy the gravitas of Kendrick’s scenes, as they are the film’s best. Interspersed is a Greek chorus of pram-pushing young fathers, lead by Chris Rock (making the best of a pay-check role), offering the emasculated-and-loving-it perspective of the new-age dad.
What To Expect When You’re Expecting is by no means a poorly-crafted hack-job like those genre sisters mentioned above. But it is very much of the style that makes the rom-com of today look like TV shows. Everything is garishly bright; old people are full o’ beans and have sex a lot (here it is Dennis Quaid who, mirroring reality, father’s twins); everybody lives life at an accelerated pace and react to their environment with broad grins, smart quips and by buying things. The young Hollywood executives of today were weaned on television’s last golden era – the heady days of ‘Friends’ and ‘Ally McBeal’ and ‘Seinfeld’ – and the films now being greenlit seem to come with a mandate for a small-screen mindset and aesthetic.
Fortunately, Jones and seasoned producer Mike Medavoy know their audience to a fault. An opening montage-like set-up paints a picture of the modern thirty-something woman that might enrage some (nights in, on the couch, watching dance contests; food indulgences; yearnings for middle-class bliss), but will prove endearing to those settling into new-motherhood; scene-stealers Rebel Wilson and Wendi McLendon-Covey are strategically cast to woo the patrons who enjoyed their last film together, Brides Maids.
In that regard, What To Expect When You’re Expecting achieves its meagre goals – to provide a pretty, crisply-told fantasy for those eating for two that centres on nine life-changing months. Perhaps best watched at home, where it can be paused during those endless trips to the toilet, it is a dippy, disposable but likably enjoyable diversion.