Friday, October 12, 2012

What to Expect When You're Expecting

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING (Kirk Jones, 2012)

The prenatal comedy WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING provides a snapshot of contemporary anxieties about imminent parenthood, but it may be more worthwhile as a document for future pop culture scholars to use to understand what was trendy in 2012.  Reality TV shows in the forms of a weight loss program and a celebrity dance competition, Auto-Tuned YouTube videos, and food trucks play prominent roles in the loosely intersecting plots of five pairs expecting babies.  Whether the film is analyzed for the attitudes and fears particular to this time for parents-to-be or what captured the mainstream’s attention, there are more valuable details found in the margins than in the dull and fragmented story.

The sets of expectant parents cover the spectrum.  Celebrity fitness trainer Jules Baxter (Cameron Diaz) thinks she can keep up her rigorous schedule while pregnant and doesn’t need to consider the input of Evan (Matthew Morrison), her partner in the relationship and on the TV dance contest where they met.  Holly (Jennifer Lopez) stresses over impressing adoption officials so she and her husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) can get a child from Ethiopia while he is wary of the major changes that may be forthcoming in their lives.  Alex is encouraged to hang out with a dad’s group that is intended to allay his fears but may reinforce them instead.

Food truck operator Rosie (Anna Kendrick) is upset  to discover that she got pregnant from a one night stand with Marco (Chace Crawford), a rival cook she knows from high school.  He commits to being there for her, but they struggle with a relationship started out of a sense of duty.  Baby store owner and children’s book author Wendy Cooper (Elizabeth Banks) and husband Gary (Ben Falcone) have been trying hard to get pregnant and are elated when it happens, but the nine months aren’t as smooth as they would hope.  It’s all the more aggravating for them because Gary’s young stepmother Skyler (Brooklyn Decker) and his dad Ramsey (Dennis Quaid) are regularly one-upping them with the ease of her pregnancy.
Based on a pregnancy guide, WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING ticks off boxes on the checklists of things to be aware of as parents anticipate the arrival of their babies.  The four stories set in Atlanta and single one based in Los Angeles reflect the diversity of experiences but play out as perfunctorily told, mostly meaninglessly connected tales.  All but one of the subplots come straight off the romantic comedy assembly line, reducing this major life event to strings of wacky hijinks and dodged conversations by people who seem as though they’d be challenged bringing a puppy into their homes, let alone a newborn child.  The scenarios didn’t need the gravity of educational role playing, just more emotional heft, especially in Kendrick and Crawford’s unusually featherweight section, and less broadly contrived nonsense.

The one thread that feels the most honest centers on Banks learning that being armed with information and the best laid plans doesn’t mean everything will happen easily or perfectly.  Her scenes, particularly a conference presentation, touch upon the range of emotions and complexity of the challenges during pregnancy that the rest of the film tends to gloss over.  

Grade: D

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