'What to Expect When You're Expecting' Is Grueling, As You Might Expect

Jules' pregnancy is one of many in What to Expect, a movie apparently proudly based on a 28-year-old self-help book.

What to Expect When You're Expecting

Director: Kirk Jones
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Chace Crawford, Brooklyn Decker, Ben Falcone, Anna Kendrick, Matthew Morrison, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Lionsgate
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-05-18 (General release)
UK date: 2012-05-25 (General release)

"She's totally doing him," opines a viewer of Celebrity Dance Factor. She and her girlfriends are huddled on a couch, passing popcorn as they imagine the real life of reality TV star Jules (Cameron Diaz) and her TV dancing partner Evan (Matthew Morrison). As it happens in What to Expect When You're Expecting -- a movie that could not be more obvious about what to expect at every minute of its plot -- Jules is doing Evan, a point made clear when they win the contest and she promptly pukes into the giant gaudy trophy.

Jules' pregnancy is one of many in What to Expect, a movie apparently proudly based on a 28-year-old self-help book (it's worth wondering, for a minute anyway, who, exactly, might be the audience for this movie). Each has a different provenance and conclusion, and not one is as entertaining as the film supposes it is. Demanding Jules and blander-than-bland Evan, ostensibly in real love (or as real as can be for reality TV people) spend their time arguing over their professional obligations and whether to circumcise their maybe-boy baby. She wants to continue her lucrative gig as a weight-loss show as long as possible and so urges on her large competitors as her belly grows larger each week. This even as he hopes she'll slow down, and even not do the extra visits-with-former-contestants program, which entails flying around the country with camera crew in order to catch up with folks who may or may not be happy to see her.

Jules' story is perhaps inherently uninteresting (and not helped at all when Megan Mullally shows up as herself, Evan's new partner on Celebrity Dance Factor). But it's not so insulting to your intelligence as that of Holly (Jennifer Lopez), planning to adopt a baby from Ethiopia with her husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro). She's a freelance photographer, mostly at Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium, so she can wear a wetsuit and her hair can float beautifully in water. He probably also has a job, but spends most of his screen time consulting with a pack of dads with strollers in the park. They first appear walking in slow motion to the tune of Biggie's "Hypnotize," a singularly un-hilarious device. Dubbed the "Dudes' Group," they complain about their wives' vaginas and their babies' needs, with Chris Rock (here called Vic) leading the verbal assailing in his now utterly tired trademark way.

Alex's panic -- exacerbated and made to sound developmentally delayed by the Dudes -- is about as original as Holly's self-doubts (she believes it's her body that's failed them in making a baby of their own), which lead in turn to some deceit on her part and also some trumped up crises regarding a house she wants to buy and her incessant spending on baby gear while they wait for word from the social worker (Tootie, er, Kim Fields). Holly never does go shopping at a mom-and-baby-gear store run by Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), newly pregnant herself after years of trying.

Though Wendy is at first overjoyed, announcing her pregnancy to her husband Gary (Ben Falcone) by leaping into the public pool where he's swimming laps, their elation is immediately dampened when they learn that his dad, a retired NACSAR driver named Ramsey (Dennis Quaid) and new supermodel wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker) reveal that they too are pregnant, with twins.

As tedious and stressful as Wendy's pregnancy turns out to be -- hemorrhoids, pee spasms, backaches, swollen ankles, exhaustion -- Skylar's is perfect. Her legs are taut, her face unblemished, and her belly a lovely round bump throughout the nine months; she shows off exactly the "glow" that Wendy has longed for all her life. What's more, Skylar remains nice, sweet and generous with Wendy and more concerned with her stepson-in-law's emotional health than his appallingly selfish and competitive dad. By the time these guys are ramming each other in golf carts, well... it's hard to believe the movie has sunk lower than the Dudes.

All this broad idiocy doesn't provide much of a coherent frame for the most disturbing and incoherent story in What to Expect, which concerns two food-van vendors, the king of pork Marco (Chace Crawford) and his one-night-stand Rosie (Anna Kendrick), who sells foodstuffs premised on cheese. So far, so senseless. But then their plot veers into tragedy, and still, the movie pretends that it not only makes sense, but also that he -- erstwhile high school player -- will help her to become a more substantial person. I almost hate to point out that Rosie spends her off hours watching Celebrity Dance Factor with her roommates, the ones with the popcorn. Perhaps there is some logic to this mess after all.

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