Hollywood is getting better at bringing self-help books to the big screen. What to Expect When You're Expecting isn't quite Think Like a Man, but it feels like an Oscar winner compared to He's Just Not That Into You.
Based on the bible for having a baby by Heidi Murkoff, the film weaves the varying types of pregnancy through its story of five couples who are, you guessed it, expecting.
Cameron Diaz is a TV fitness guru who discovers she's pregnant as she closes out her guest stint on a Dancing with the Stars-type show. Her partner, on and off the dance floor, is Matthew Morrison (Glee). Jennifer Lopez and onscreen hubby Rodrigo Santoro are an artsy couple who have to adopt when they learn they cannot have children. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone have been trying for what seems like forever and then one fateful day, the proverbial stork arrives. Then there’s Dennis Quaid (who is Falcone’s father) and his screen wife Brooklyn Decker, whose May-October romance gets a little surprise in the form of a baby. Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford round out the ensemble as a pair of young upstarts that welcome pregnancy by accident.
Why What to Expect works is it takes the book that it is based on and captures its essence and then promptly throws it out the window. In the celluloid arena, story matters. What we have is not only a circle of five stories that surprisingly works, but also a periphery story that may be the best part of the film: The dads' group. You’ve seen their collective coolness, in spite of and because of their adorned-with-fatherhood personas.
Chris Rock anchors the group that also features Reno 911 vet Thomas Lennon. Lopez hears about the group from a fellow Reno 911 star -- Bridesmaids scene stealer Wendi McLendon-Covey -- and promptly sends her freaking out dad-to-be to hang with the boys.
Their simple credo mirrors an iconic film: Rule number one, no talking about what happens with dads' group. As such, their bond is brilliant. They bemoan their situation, but every single one of the young dads emotionally conveys in mere movie minutes their utter adoration for their children. One even talks about loving them so much he is afraid he might eat his baby!
The film runs out of steam just as our ladies go into labor. It is an ensemble piece, where very few of the stars actually even share scenes. This is the slight issue we have with the film. Woody Allen is the master of weaving large casts and making it believable that everyone knows each other -- and most importantly -- is an integral facet to their life. But in What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the connectedness of our cast is not established until the film’s final moments. It appears to be a storytelling necessity, yet these stories work so well on their own -- they need not unite.
Solid romantic comedies are hard to find. But, what audiences have delivered to them in What to Expect While You’re Expecting is a romantic comedy and so much more. Usually in rom-coms, couples are basking in newfound love. In this film, the affection arrives in the form of unabashed adoration for the little life that these couples are now charged with raising to adulthood.