Expect Little From 'Expecting'
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
To say that a motion picture was not entirely the hellish torment that one viewer might have been, um, expecting could be considered damning with faint praise. And so be it. Thankfully, since this viewer is a male, I am constitutionally without the right to make the "I should have taken the epidural" jokes that a slightly worse movie than this might have seemed to have called for.
"Inspired" by the best-selling, and somewhat controversial, pregnancy advice book, "What to Expect When You're Expecting" is another entry in what seems to be a burgeoning subgenre: the ensemble-cast, multiple-parallel (and eventually converging) story-line romantic comedy. While I believe that no genre, or subgenre, can be considered pernicious in and of itself, I have to say, I suspect that this one has produced more bad movies than, yes, torture porn, or whatever the squares call it.
In any event, as concocted by screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach and director Kirk Jones, this film chronicles the expectations of several demographically faux-diverse straight couples. There are the bohemian strivers who are obliged to adopt, played by Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro. Yes, Jennifer Lopez plays a bohemian striver. A freelance photographer, to be exact. So there's your verisimilitude right there. Cameron Diaz is a fitness guru knocked up by a television dancing partner. Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone are a fraught couple, she a self-styled mothering expert, he an inferiority-complex sufferer with weight and father issues, striving to conceive. Dennis Quaid is a rich race car driver and Brooklyn Decker is his model, as it were, wife, and Quaid is of course the father of the character with, um, father issues. And Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford are rival food-truckers who meet cute and almost immediately conceive in a bald-faced attempt to suck the young food-truck enthusiast moviegoer into the theater. If you excised their entire story line, the movie would neither suffer nor be enhanced.
A Greek chorus of sorts is provided by a batch of stroller-pushing dads known as the "Dudes Group" (the cleverness level the picture aspires to is rather neatly summed up by that bit of nomenclature), and as said group is made up of proven funny quantities Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon, Rob Huebel and Amir Talai, there are some real laughs in their scenes. And truth to tell, Banks and Falcone really dig in their heels to milk laughs from their roles as the couple who suffer the most discomfort and humiliation during the miracle that is human biological reproduction. And Quaid is pretty refreshingly loose as a bad dad, while Decker does a good job with too-perfect-but-still-sweet Southern belle. These are the aspects that keep active pain at bay, along with a few good jokes. Lopez, on the other hand, is a bland if attractive drag, while as her partner, Santoro glowers and smirks and thickens a Spanish accent during a drunk scene and keeps it thick for the rest of the movie. Yeesh.
Everything that happens in the multiple story lines is entirely predictable; the only question is when. Once you've seen enough of these kinds of films, you accept the predictability and unrelenting ideological determinism as something like inevitable genre conventions and hence not the sort of things to get hung about. And yet, they are indeed to be deplored. And as for the mostly rote sentimentality, I guess this picture should get some novelty points for providing a theme song to a miscarriage scene. David Gray's "Forgetting," in case you were wondering. Get it? Because there's always a next time? Despite the small pleasures the movie's performers strive to provide, I sincerely hope that no siblings are considered.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.