When historians of the future – or, more likely, our inevitable alien rulers – examine the early days of the 21st century, they will note a surge of interest in celebrity child-rearing. There has always been a big cultural fixation on famous people with mysterious baby bumps, going all the way back to the Virgin Mary. But not even the Madonna could have scored as lucrative a deal with pictures of the newborn Christ as Brad and Ange did with their spawn Shiloh. Perhaps the greatest example of our obsession was Beyoncé‘s onstage unveiling of the life growing inside her at the 2011 MTV Awards; an event of such magnitude it broke Twitter and precipitated the first ever coronation of a fetus into the highest echelons of Hollywood royalty.
Trashy mags suspect certain celebs of having been knocked up, and countless readers breathlessly join in on the speculation. Are we just looking for the last vestige of humanity in these perfect-seeming icons? Proof that ultra-talented and unattainable fembots like Angelina and Beyoncé are indeed human? Or, is there a more malicious intent? Do we derive pleasure from imagining these immaculately made-up ladies going through the same painful, wonderful, degrading, exhausting experience of giving birth like the rest of womankind? Kirk Jones‘ What to Expect When You’re Expecting, much like the countless features of its ilk that have come before, hopes its the latter.
Based on Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel’s notably plot-free pregnancy manual of the same name, WTEWYE follows the template of all the other ensemble rom-coms released in Love Actually‘s wake (and what a consistently disappointing output it has wrought): a bunch of tangentially related characters, played by stars you like, pair up in various pleasing combinations. What to Expect mercifully flips the script mildly and eschews the romancing by focusing on the couples’ struggle to conceive, deliver, adopt, and/or raise children. That is where Shauna Cross and Heather Hach’s screenplay dumps originality however. It covers all the complications that occur while awaiting the arrival of a kid; well, except for poverty, illness, unpreparedness, broken relationships, and crippling emotional trauma. It does give us a seemingly endless and ultimately irrelevant debate about whether or not one should circumcise a boy though. The one storyline with a somewhat serious edge is totally abandoned half-way through the picture. Maybe it’s not fair to criticise a light-hearted comedy for only broaching the least-sensitive of topics, but I do so to highlight that what we get instead is well-trodden ground.
The mommies in question: Elizabeth Banks, as a baby boutique shop-owner struggling to maintain her grace with a particularly gassy bub; Brooklyn Decker, her super-young mother-in-law who picked up a warm glow and seemingly no other side-effects; Cameron Diaz, a TV fitness instructor carrying the unanticipated progeny of her dancing instructor (Matthew Morrison); Anna Kendrick, a food-trucker who drunkenly slept with a former crush and current professional rival (Chace Crawford); and Jennifer Lopez, as an Anne Geddes-inspired photographer looking to adopt from Ethiopia with her husband (Rodrigo Santoro). The characters all have names, but really, what’s the difference?
I haven’t even mentioned competitive father and son Dennis Quaid and Ben Falcone, the husbands of Decker and Banks respectively. There is also the ‘Dude’s Group’ – Chris Rock, Rob Huebel, Thomas Lennon, Amir Talai, Joe Manganiello – who help Santoro adjust to being around little ones. Theirs are the best sequences, admitting (in a no judgement environment) that sometimes they accidentally hurt their kids, or find them swimming in the toilet, or discover they’ve eaten a cigarette whilst on their watch.
Although everyone – from the always reliable Banks and Kendrick to the risky inclusions Decker and Crawford – gets a nice scene or two, they’re ultimately betrayed by a generic script and lacklustre direction. Not a single beat is unforeseen, and, with this many characters to contend with, it’s hard to really invest in any one storyline. Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up centred on one impending birth, but it also had a host of memorable actors in supporting roles with their own varying degrees of conflict. That film told a story. What to Expect just counts down the nine months. Despite an immensely appealing cast and a few funny moments, I would only recommend What to Expect at a ‘push’. The eggs are there; someone just forgot to fertilise them.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting arrives in Australian cinemas May 31, 2012.