Following the inexplicable success of ensemble rom-coms like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, Hollywood has diverged from the holiday-themed hijinks for a look into the world of pregnancy. As suspected, the film stars absolutely everyone (and Cheryl Cole) at various stages of pregnancy and relationships, all trying to navigate the bodily functions and bickering that are apparently the main driving force of procreating. If you’re thinking about having a baby, this film does its best to put you off for life.
For those of you who already have children or, even better, are expecting yourself, What to Expect When You’re Expecting may prove an invaluable source of comfort and solidarity. We follow five couples, all of whom we’re meant to understand as coming from different walks of life, but are all in fact wealthy and straight, as they navigate the commercialised, cynical, hate-filled universe of baby-making. Aside from not including a gay or lesbian couple (although we do see adoption), it presents the most conventional of outcomes for every single character.
First up is Cameron Diaz, lending her frighteningly ripped abs to the role of a celebrity fitness guru. Her baby-daddy is Glee star Matthew Morrison, who is coincidently also her partner on Dancing With the Stars – one feels that the UK tabloids would have a lot more fun with the scenario than the headlines shown during the movie. The storyline would have been a perfect opportunity to tackle single mother/fatherhood but, of course, they’re not just dancing the tango together, they’re hopelessly in love. Is it wrong to ask for a little more cynicism in my rom-com?
Next up are Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro, who you’ll recognise from any rom-com that’s sought after a Latino romantic lead before. The couple’s life is barely witnessed before we learn they’re keen to adopt, due mainly to Lopez’s inability to conceive naturally. By this point you’ll rightly assume that they won’t just be adopting a kid from the US, but travelling all the way over to Ethiopia to pick up the little tyke. No wonder Mr. Lopez freaks out, running to the Dude group (Chris Rock, Rob Huebel, Thomas Lennon & Amir Talai) to learn of the pains and joys of fatherhood. These sequences are fun due to Rock’s involvement, but a couple of chucklesome one-liners only go so far in a film like this.
Anna Kendrick and Gossip Girl’s Chace Crawford are pulled in to attract the younger audience, but their storyline quickly becomes the more serious, down-beat and realistic storyline. I’ll take a moment to applaud the film for making the effort, portraying the aftermath of unprotected sex and, later, miscarriage. The problem is, after they’ve done their job and cried their tears, the couple all but disappear from the film. If you’re going to introduce the issue into a film about pregnancy and everything that comes with, I would have liked to see it followed through.
But why dwell on heartbreak when we can laugh at the indignity induced by procreating? Elizabeth Banks, seen so much in the film’s trailer, is What to Expect’s star and secret weapon, lending a certain amount of credibility to her character’s miserable storyline. Consisting of bodily functions, walking funny, and being jealous of her twenty-something stepmother-in-law (Brooklyn Dekker who, with Dennis Quaid, makes up the fifth couple), her increasing discomfort and ultimate breakdown is as close of the film gets to the experiences of real women.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting isn’t really a rom-com, and I suspect it’s only being targeted as such to bring in hardened fans of the genre. I watched the film with one such fan, and she emerged confused about what she’d just seen. There’s little romance to be found, especially considering most of the characters have fallen in love, done the deed, and gotten knocked up before the first 15 minutes are up. No, this is a gross-out comedy masquerading as a rom-com, and I’d urge those of a nervous disposition to avoid it. Women (and some men) with kids will no doubt welcome the wish-fulfilment fantasy it offers, but picking up Heidi Murkoff’s book will probably add more to your life.