Review: Watching ‘What to Expect when You’re Expecting’ More Painful than Childbirth

Review: Watching ‘What to Expect when You’re Expecting’ More Painful than Childbirth May 18, 2012

If you’ve ever been pregnant or been married to someone pregnant, you’ve met her: The breed of mother who lives to tell her birth story.

In a public bathroom, at the grocery store – heck, in line at the DMV – she’ll regale you with a detailed and gory description of her blessed event, complete with contraction timing, dilatation measures, and numbers of pushes.

Her story is a long and horrifying story with an ending never in doubt. After all, she’s standing there and not weeping with loss for her child, so you’re pretty sure everything turned out fine in the end no matter if she got an epidural or went au naturel.

It’s a kind of sick, female competition: Who has the most awfully beautiful story.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting is the movie equivalent of that woman. A timid comedy full of stock characters and clichéd humor with endings never in doubt, it wants to tell you every detail of pregnancy but none of life.

You will need an epidural just to get through the flick.

The story follows several couples as they prepare to enter the land of parenthood for the first time. Jules (Cameron Diaz) is a fitness celebrity who gets knocked up by her dance partner (Glee’s Matthew Morrison) on a television dancing competition.

Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and her husband Gary (Ben Falcone) finally achieve pregnancy after years of trying, only to find Gary’s father (Dennis Quaid) and his young trophy wife (Brookyln Decker) expecting a blessing of their own.

Rosie (Anna Kendrick) fearfully launches into pregnancy after a brief fling with Marco (Chase Crawford).

Finally, Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) accept that pregnancy isn’t an option for them and begin the adoption process.

That’s a lot of babies to get straight.

Plus, Alex calms his fears with the help of “the dudes,” a posse of hep daddies who patrol the park trying to look cool in a world of sippy cups and strollers with more cupholders than a minivan. Led by Chris Rock, the dudes are the best thing about the film, which isn’t saying much.

At least the dudes attempt to rise above clichés we have seen on a thousand sitcoms and be something new. They represent the Swagger Wagon crowd (Click to see the fantastic Toyota commercial that went viral a few years ago, which is a more enjoyable 2 minutes than you’ll see in the movie), rockin’ the Bjorn baby carrier and daddy diaper pouch. They don’t sweat the details even as they know being a daddy is the coolest job in the world.

Chris Rock’s character has a toddler who repeatedly gets hit in the head, falls down, and finds gross things in the bushes.

More of this please.

Except, the concept is better than the execution. As any parent will tell you, toddlers fall down a lot. It’s not as shocking as the movie thinks it is. The idea that dads let kids take more risks – and that those risks might be good for kids – is ripe with comic material. Plus, with all our Styrofoam-wrapped, safety-strapped, helmet-wearing ways, it would be subversive to our overprotective culture.

In other words, developing that theme could have been really funny while hitting some sort of nail on the head.

The movie isn’t brave enough to go there, however, and implies more than it delivers.

As it marches relentlessly through trimesters, it focuses on self-absorbed couples whose greatest worry is that the woman doesn’t “feel a glow” or the dad doesn’t “feel ready” or that daddy’s new wife wins the pregnancy competition. These are people who, like most of us, will be forced to grow up when those squalling infants enter the world.

The film gets lots of kudos for including an unexpected pregnancy and an adoption in the mix, although the emotions in either are, again, implied rather than explored.

Like the overinformative woman in the public bathroom, the film takes us right into the delivery room. With a PG-13 rating, the births manage to be both way too detailed and, oddly, nothing like the real thing. When the couples meet their children for the first time, a moment that most parents will say is the most significant and beautiful minute of their lives, it’s the only moment of real emotion or truth in the entire movie. Yet, it’s not enough to make the rest of the film worthwhile.

The shallowness and lack of real humor in the film contrast poorly with great pregnancy movies like Parenthood or even Father of the Bride 2, which played with the silliness of the whole thing while acknowledging the indelible and awe-inspiring mystery behind it.

Unless you’re a woman right in the childbearing stage of life, this movie will do nothing for you. For men, it will be worse than attending a girlfriend’s friend’s couples baby shower with several of those over-informative women.

And that’s saying something.

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