Guys - this isn't for you...
Five different couples have very different experiences of bringing their first child into the world.What to Expect When You’re Expecting is actually based on the wildly popular handbook written by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel which has been dominating the shelves of pregnant folks since its first publication in 1984. While the books themselves have no story, screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach have been tasked with creating a structure which delivers some of the lessons of the book while also providing enough drama and comedy to fill the 110 minute running time.
Fair warning number two: this isn’t a film for men. As if to reinforce the point, the first scene features an extended look at a version of Dancing with the Stars which seems intent on scaring off male viewers. And perhaps it’s for the best as much of the rest of the film invests serious time in making every person of the masculine gender seem grossly incompetent, untrustworthy and generally dense.
And yet, surprisingly, I didn’t totally hate What to Expect… mainly due to the fact that it seems to be genuinely trying to present the audience with a wide range of possible paths through pregnancy, throwing in chunks of adversity and even focussing on adoption as another means for couples to complete their family.
It doesn’t hurt that there’s an impressive cast on display. Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick and Brooklyn Decker all feature in main roles and help to make the material infinitely more engaging than it might have been. What would have made things more bearable still would have been at least one strong male star or performance but to a man they seem to have been chosen for their ability to blend into the background, with bigger names like Chris Rock and Dennis Quaid kept far in the background.
Billed as a comedy, it seems like most of the laughs are expected to come from the copious amount of vomiting on display. Elsewhere you might guffaw at the increasingly precarious pranks of one of Chris Rock’s coterie of children or some tired clichés about how great epidurals are as the contractions and complications arrive. It’s Banks who gets the most genuine laughs as a beleaguered woman who suffers every possible pitfall on her less than magical journey towards giving birth. Her transformation from a prim but naïve hopeful mother to a parasite carrying bitch is enjoyable to watch with her speech to a crowd of surprised mothers the closest the film comes to a comedy set piece.
Ultimately, there isn’t a lot to What to Expect When You’re Expecting beyond some heavy handed pointers on pregnant life and a few manipulative emotional moments. The subordinate role of every male character is disappointing, painting the men as beaten down and even forced into fatherhood against their will, surely not a very 21st century outlook. But it could be seen as a concession to the clearly female target audience, giving women an excuse to cry, squirm and laugh at the expense of the fouler sex for the guts of two hours.
Let’s get this out of the way –