Tuesday, November 20, 2012

When People Who Have Money Decide To Have Kids, You Get A Troublingly Jumbled Film With What To Expect When You’re Expecting

The Good: Moments of humor
The Bad: Predictable, Overbearing soundtrack, Underdeveloped character arcs
The Basics: A big cast and a few good lines does not fix the problems with What To Expect When You’re Expecting.

I do not like babies. I have no problem admitting that. Babies (reviewed here!) was more of a horror story to me than a documentary. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But, the truth is, I lack any type of procreative instinct (more than made up for by my creative-productive instinct that encourages me to write, do art, etc.). I do, however, love movies. I love films with big casts and complicated stories, like Magnolia (reviewed here!) and Cradle Will Rock (reviewed here!). I don’t need the film to be depressing, but I like it to be smart. What To Expect When You’re Expecting is sprawling and filled with characters, but it is not complicated or interesting. And that’s not a baby-hater writing that, it’s a movie reviewer.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting seems initially ambitious with its four main overlapping stories of pregnancy and adoption, but it is so incredibly predictable and the embodiment of the conceits of “chick flicks” that it is hard to see how the film was ever produced. It’s almost like Lionsgate had a dozen hot young actresses and actors under contract and had to get them into a film before the contracts were up and they threw them all into What To Expect When You’re Expecting. What To Expect When You’re Expecting is loosely based on the non-fiction pregnancy manual by the same name and it fleshes out the “how to get through pregnancy” with characters and humor that does only lip service to each of the complicated situations that it tries to explore. Of course, that is what one gets when they try to squeeze four stories that could hold up on their own into a single 110 minute movie.

Instead of complexity or sophistication, What To Expect When You’re Expecting falls back on cheap, obvious conceits that reinforce the ideas that everyone ultimately loves babies and women’s instincts in relationships and pregnancy are the absolute right ones.

Wendy and her husband Gary run a breast feeding store and Wendy has written a children’s book about breastfeeding. She and Gary visit Gary’s former racecar driver father and learn that Ramsey and his young wife, Skyler, are having twins. Fitness guru Jules and her dance partner get pregnant as well. Photographer Holly has been trying with her husband, Alex, but it looks like they will be forced to adopt, which Holly is excited for because she wants to adopt an Ethiopian child. And, after a one-night stand, Rosie finds herself pregnant from a rival food truck owner.

The relationships have varying degrees of complexity, with Gary forced to confront his father over his competitive nature and Wendy realizing she hates being pregnant. Holly freaks out because Alex is not quite ready – even after visiting the roving dad walking club – and she loses her job at the aquarium. When Rosie miscarries, it strains her would-be relationship with the man who would have been the father. And Jules struggles with the relationship with Evan as her career is complicated by her pregnancy.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting is an excellent example with a short film trying to do far too much. In addition to being completely obvious – the fact that Joe Manganiello’s womanizing Davis, who gives the father’s club a vicarious attachment to single life, ends up getting a woman pregnant is utterly unsurprising – Anna Kendrick’s Rosie falls out of the film remarkably fast and Alex’s character struggle with having a child is almost completely neglected and washed over in the pursuit of Holly’s plan and goals.

Moreover, while scenes like Wendy’s rant at the baby seminar do a great job of exploring her character’s frustration, but her assistant, played by Rebel Wilson, provides a comic relief that is utterly unnecessary in the scene. Marco and Rosie are reunited by a weak conceit at the end that is more predictable than audacious or even interesting. In other words, like so many of the character arcs, What To Expect When You’re Expecting goes for the obvious, happy resolution as opposed to sensible, well-conceived stories that actually delve into the full complexities of the character.

The best example of this is with the character of Wendy. Wendy has a load of hopes and dreams associated with having a child, most of her illusions are shattered in the process of being actually pregnant. What To Expect When You’re Expecting fails to explore the consequences of that sudden disillusionment and it completely neglects the toll her rapid mood swings ought to take on her relationship with Gary. For those looking for either a satisfying story or character arcs, What To Expect When You’re Expecting is a bit of a letdown.

What What To Expect When You’re Expecting has in its place is a pounding soundtrack that overwhelms whenever director Kirk Jones needs a transition and virtually every hot “it” actress currently in the business. Led by Elizabeth Banks, What To Expect When You’re Expecting has some of the hottest Hollywood eating-disorder thin unrealistically shaped women in the world portraying the perils of impending motherhood when you have enough money to have a child. It’s hard to take seriously Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Anna Kendricks, and Brooklyn Decker worrying at all about having children when they – and all their characters – appear to be able to easily afford prenatal visits and adequate nutrition and houses and the like.

On the acting front, there are no superlative performances. Anna Kendrick, whose work I usually enjoy, seems to have started suffering from Mary-Louise Parker Syndrome (that rare disorder where a woman may not appear on screen with her lips together at any point), though she and Chance Crawford have decent on-screen chemistry. Dennis Quaid, Ben Falcone and Brooklyn Decker show nothing outside their established range – though to Decker’s credit, this film and her work in it is still better than Battleship (reviewed here!). Similarly, Jennifer Lopez, Roderigo Santo, and Cameron Diaz fail to wow in any way. Joel Murray and Chris Rock steal their brief scenes.

Now on DVD, What To Expect When You’re Expecting includes bonus features like deleted scenes, trailers for other “chick flicks,” and two featurettes, none of which make the primary programming better.

Ultimately, What To Expect When You’re Expecting is very typical lowest common denominator for women entertainment and it is not enough to reassure those who have reservations about parenthood, much less entertain an intelligent audience.

For other works with Anna Kendrick, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Breaking Dawn, Part 1
New Moon


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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