Judge Paul Pritchard has just given birth. Not even he expected that.
"Making a human being is really hard."
What to Expect When You're Expecting is inspired by Heidi Murkoff's book of the same name. Murkoff's book, first published in 1984, serves as a guide to pregnant women, and has even been described as the "bible of American pregnancy."
Facts of the Case
An all-star cast—including Cameron Diaz (There's Something About Mary), Jennifer Lopez (Out of Sight), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games), and Dennis Quaid (Innerspace)—comes together to tell the story of five couples experiencing the highs and lows of becoming parents.
What to Expect When You're Expecting reeks of being a film producer's wet dream. Bringing together a whole host of Hollywood A-listers to celebrate the miracle of becoming a parent must have seemed like a surefire hit. While the film certainly did decent box office, its shoehorning in of too many characters in an attempt to "connect" with as many people as possible results in a diluted experience that plays like a Hollywood-ized highlights reel of pregnancy.
Much like Garry Marshall's New Year's Eve, What to Expect When You're Expecting delivers a big ensemble piece that lacks the blend of characters, emotion, and content that makes Richard Curtis' Love Actually such an enduring creation. In the absence of such virtues, Kirk Jones' rom-com instead throws in unexpected pregnancies, marital strife, adoption, miscarriage, and hemorrhoids, hoping that each and every viewer will have shared at least one similar experience, and so can laugh/cry (delete as appropriate) along with J-Lo and Co.
While it would be untrue of me to suggest What to Expect When You're Expecting is a completely soulless picture—an adoption ceremony depicted towards the end is genuinely touching—I'd argue that the film is disingenuous in its portrayal of the less glamorous and downright frightening sides of pregnancy. Sure, we get Elizabeth Banks reminding us that flatulence, backache, and hormonal imbalance are oft-unspoken fact of being pregnants, but when the film then decides to throw in a miscarriage, only to then forget about it and not deal with its devastating consequences, I have to call foul. In a similar fashion, the film provides a "suspenseful" finale when a mother gives birth, only to require emergency medical attention shortly afterward, with her life seemingly in the balance. I'm sorry, but such events are not to be taken so lightly. If you are going to deal with them, then please, do so in an adult way, not purely for dramatic effect.
The few moments that do ring true, such as the moment of indescribable joy at the first sight of your newborn child, fail to fully resonate, as none of the characters is given enough time to connect with the viewer. Just as we might start to invest in Jennifer Lopez's attempts to adopt an Ethiopian orphan, the film's focus abruptly switches to Cameron Diaz's dilemma over whether to have her baby circumcised, before Elizabeth Banks' incontinence takes center stage. While the film is too flawed to ever truly be redeemed, one cannot escape the feeling that reducing the primary cast to just two couples would have at least given its narrative some much-needed focus.
Nobody in the cast delivers their best work here. Subtlety and verisimilitude are not on the agenda; overacting and hyperbole become the order of the day. Of the cast, Dennis Quaid turns in the best performance, in a role that at least exhibits his comedic skills—even if the humor isn't always on target. Chris Rock (Dogma) and Thomas Lennon (I Love You, Man) are largely wasted in their roles of the Fight Club-like "The Dudes," a group of men who regularly get together to share the joys of fatherhood. Although they consistently deliver the most laughs, their screen time is kept far too short.
Kirk Jones' direction is bland, in that all-too-familiar way. The film undoubtedly looks slick and is framed expertly. We get a whole host of beautifully staged shots, with an outdoor showing of Dirty Dancing painting an idyllic picture of western civilization, but there's nothing to make it stand out from a hundred other big studio movies released every year, and all its good looks are for naught, thanks to the film's lack of substance.
Lionsgate's DVD looks fantastic, with a bright standard definition 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is bursting with color and detail. The picture is extremely sharp, and really is hard to fault. The accompanying Dolby 5.1 audio mix delivers clear dialogue throughout, and frequently bursts into life when the numerous pop songs that make up the soundtrack come into play.
The single-disc DVD comes with a small selection of extras. "What to Expect and the Pregnancy Bible" has members of the cast and crew discusses the book that inspired the film. "The Dudes Unscrewed" takes a closer look at the Chris Rock-led father's group that further explores men's attitudes towards pregnancy. Rounding it out are a selection of deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer. Finally the DVD allows the user to download a digital copy of the film, along with an optional Ultraviolet copy.
I'm not the most demanding of viewers, but even I want more from my entertainment than what What to Expect When You're Expecting is able to offer. High on fluff, but light on substance, this stands as a testament to all that is wrong with modern-day Hollywood.
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