Friday, May 18, 2012

Run Away, Screaming: What To Expect When You're Expecting

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I don't have kids, nor do I plan to. But I've got enough friends with kids to know that the pablum spooned out in the new "comedy" What To Expect When You're Expecting has barely a passing resemblance to what one should really expect when one is expecting.

The fact that this movie is based on the title of a non-fiction, instructional book, (JUST THE TITLE!), should be warning enough to stay away. That the result is another one of those multi-storied, star-filled movies ala Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve means you should run away, screaming.

Having already wasted two hours of my life on this nonsense, it pains me to waste much more. Someone give me an epidural so I can push this thing out.

WTEWYE tells the stories of five couples, (there are no single parents in this word), all facing impending parenthood at the same time. Of course, all these characters end up being connected in some way or another, because that's...funny? Totally believable? An easy story crutch?

Cameron Diaz is a fitness trainer, ala Jillian Michaels, who discovers she's pregnant during the finale of a "Dancing With the Stars"-type reality show. The father is her dance partner, played by Matthew Morrison. (I'm not even going to bother with character names here. I was still iffy on most of them by the time the end credits were rolling, and really, what does it matter?)

Elizabeth Banks runs a children's store, and has just written a children's book, and finally gets pregnant after years of trying with her husband, played by Ben Falcone.

Dennis Quaid is Falcone's father, an aging, rich, former race car driver, married to a much younger woman played by Brooklyn Decker. They're expecting twins.

Jennifer Lopez is a photographer, who often takes portraits of babies, who is married to a music guy played by Rodrigo Santoro. They plan on adopting. (Which is not their first choice. You see, she can't do "the one thing a woman is supposed to be able to do." Yes, those are words actually spoken in this movie.)

And finally, Anna Kendrick is food truck chef, who, after one night with Chace Crawford, the chef at a competing food truck, finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy that she decides to keep. (Not that NOT having the baby ever seems to be up for much debate.)

Floating around in the background are seemingly dozens of supporting characters, such as a dad's group that includes Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon, and Rob Huebel; Joe Manganiello as a single guy the dad's group idolizes, (he spends most of his appearances naked from the waist up); and Wendi McLendon-Covey and Rebel Wilson, as two of the moms-to-be's co-workers. (Both are hilarious ladies, perhaps best known for their work in Bridesmaids, and both are, sadly completely wasted here, although Wilson did get the only laugh out of me during the entire movie, with a comment about how she'd once had a "phantom pregnancy.")

The mad race to parenthood propels the movie forward, with a few stumbling blocks along the way. One pregnancy doesn't end well, although the thought an experience like that deserves doesn't get any play in a movie that has to tell at least six different stories at once.

Which is pretty much the problem with any movie like this: It takes a deft hand to juggle multiple storylines without giving short shrift to some, if not all of them, and director Kirk Jones isn't up to the task. The whole thing comes off as entertaining and enlightening as an infomercial for parenthood.

There's some lip service given to fact that pregnancy, for some, can be a miserable experience--Banks is a wreck throughout most of hers. But when Diaz, who, we don't learn until late in the movie is supposed to be 35--and therefore at a "higher risk"--is told she needs to stay in bed for the remaining--weeks? months? it's not clear--of her pregnancy, it's shrugged off as no big thing. (The fact that Diaz looks like she's been digitally airbrushed throughout most of the movie doesn't help in the realism department.)

Inevitably, everyone goes into labor, (or picks up their kid), on the same day, and even when some of the births don't go quite as the mothers had planned, their babies are immediately placed in their arms looking sparkingly clean, with perfectly round heads, and big enough to be at least six weeks old.

There's no blood, mess, or stretched out vaginas in this land of motherhood. But that's not what you were expecting, was it?

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