As much as we know we shouldn’t, we all go into things with assumptions – I’m not going to like this party, this television show is going to be awesome, there is just no way that they made that into a decent movie. For instance, let’s face it, there’s just no way that they turned Heidi Murkoff’s phenomenally successful What to Expect When You’re Expecting into a decent movie. Right? It couldn’t have happened, could it All the promotional material make it look like the worst sort of cash-in and as the book is a work of non-fiction which provides advice and in no way centers on several dysfunctional relationships/individuals, as the movie is, it isn’t really going to be based on the book anyway, is it?
Well, the last of these statements is true – outside of there being pregnant women whose pregnancies go differently, there isn’t much of the book in the movie (not counting the times the book actually appears, of course). Somehow though, Kirk Jones’ direction of Shauna Cross and Heather Hach’s screenplay turns what feels like it could be a disaster into a pretty decent way to spend a few hours.
Maybe that is damning the film with faint praise, but it is also the truth of it – What to Expect When You’re Expecting will win no awards (Teen Choice nominations not counting), the acting isn’t all that great (Anna Kendrick particularly has one or two bad scenes), it isn’t hugely funny, it doesn’t venture outside the confines of the genre, but it still manages to be carefree and lighthearted enough where none of that matters.
What to Expect follows several couples on their journey from just prior to conception through the course of their pregnancies. The women are all different, with different relationship statuses, worries, hopes, fears, etc. And, perhaps not surprisingly, all the stories are vaguely intertwined (person A has met person B who once worked with person C). Jones handles the various couples well, never lingering too long on one tale before moving to the next.
The casting for the film by and large works with the pregnant women being played by Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Brooklyn Decker, and Anna Kendrick. Their matching significant others are portrayed by Matthew Morrison, Rodrigo Santoro, Ben Falcone, Dennis Quaid, and Chace Crawford. What room is left for anyone else is mainly taken up by Chris Rock, who plays Vic, an experienced dad who is part of a dad’s group and who never fears to show other dads the way.
The honest truth of it is that outside of Vic no one is hugely memorable and five days later the majority of the jokes are going to be forgotten, but the film is enjoyable as you’re experiencing it and that can sometimes be enough. There are certainly moments when if feels like you’re watching several different films – the Wendy and Gary story (Banks and Falcone) is played for laughs far more than the Rosie and Marco one (Kendrick and Crawford), with the Jules-Evan (Diaz and Morrison) and Holly-Alex (Lopez and Santoro) lying somewhere in the middle. The tale of Skyler and Ramsey (Decker and Quaid) is, except for a few scant minutes, absolutely nothing more than comic relief as they play second fiddle to the Wendy and Gary story.
In fact, Ramsey is Gary’s father and his story (as well as Skyler’s) only exists to play off of Wendy and Gary. It is the story which we see the least of, and the one which deserves it (you won’t feel cheated that you don’t get more because you won’t want it). The film might be better with Ramsey and Skyler as a couple, but without their pregnancy entering into it. As it stands, their pregnancy gives the whole film something more akin to a sitcom feel than it would otherwise have. Sadly though, the Wendy and Gary story is one of the best that the film has to give – they are the couple that has been trying forever and finally get pregnant only to find that it isn’t what they would have it be.