What to Expect When You’re Expecting *** (out of five)
“Based” on a popular pregnancy manual, What to Expect When You’re Expecting is another ensemble comedy in the vein of Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, where many big stars share multiple storylines in the same film, but not necessarily all get to meet each other. Sort of like what Robert Altman did with Nashville, but obviously not up to that level (and, to be fair, very few movies in the history of movies are up to that level).
The thing is, this one isn’t nearly as tragically bad as those other, “all the events are happening on this particular day” films. Obviously the tie-in here is pregnancy, or, to be precise, expecting, in its myriad forms: thus while we have Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone as an Atlanta couple going through a “traditional” pregnancy, while (in another part of Atlanta!) we have Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro attempting to adopt a baby, and (in yet another part of Atlanta!) Anna Kendrick and the unfortunately named Chase Crawford as a young couple dealing with getting knocked up on a one-night stand. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, we have C-Grade reality celebs Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison as expectant parents who aren’t particularly sure that they even like each other that much. Against all this, there is a sort of Greek Chorus of Dads, led by the always fabulous Chris Rock, who go walking with their kids together every Saturday and basically allow each other time with their kids away from their kids’ mothers. (Chris Rock, by the way, is a real star, and I wondered why he wasn’t one of the “main Dads” rather than one of these side-story Dads. But, for some reason, Chris Rock just doesn’t seem to be on Hollywood’s A-List, despite obvious talent, charisma, intelligence, and a huge audience that he brings to every project).
I emitted a breathy, little laugh once, and smiled a couple of times. It’s extremely far from laugh-out-loud territory. But what I wasn’t expecting was how warmly I felt towards the characters by the end of the movie – and I certainly wasn’t expecting to tear up a little bit during one of the couple’s denouements. How in hell did that happen? Goddamn it, they managed to push my buttons!
Tonally, it’s all over the place; Banks and Lopez play their comedy very broadly, while Kendrick and Crawford are in an angsty drama that plays very differently from the rest of the movie; meanwhile, the Dads group is cast with comedians and almost seems like its own series of short, jokey films that have been purchased for inclusion in this one to spice it up. I have seen every single actor in this film be much better in other films (particularly Banks, Lopez and Kendrick); that suggests to me that director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) isn’t really in his wheelhouse doing American ensemble big-star rom-com. But, against all odds, it all kind of works, and is ultimately pretty moving. It has a good, honest heart, and if you go in with a clean attitude, it just may get to you.