For those looking for a safe and familiar comedy-drama, What to Expect When You're Expecting is about what you'd expect.
Modern ensemble comedies have seen plenty of success in recent years with edgier offerings like Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses, and the recent Think Like a Man, presenting plenty of fresh laughs as well as contemporary social satire. Whereas other films have explored the ins and outs of bromance, wedding party fiascoes, and modern relationships in general, director Kirk Jones (Everybody's Fine) tackled one of life's most joyful (and painful) subjects with What to Expect When You're Expecting: pregnancy.
However, with other contemporary "pregnancy" comedies such as Knocked Up and Baby Mama (plus Twilight Breaking Dawn: Part I, however unintentionally) still making viewers laugh on blu-ray and cable syndication, can What to Expect When You're Expecting still present enough smart gags (and a little bit of heart) to warrant a viewing?
In this case, the film somewhat succeeds primarily because of its reliance on standard rom-com elements. As a result, for viewers who aren't anticipating Hollywood's next comedy hit, What to Expect When You're Expecting might meet your, well, expectations. However, audience members who are looking for fresh surprises and edgy satire will likely find themselves not only predicting the various story beats with near-perfect accuracy, but even worse, underwhelmed by many of the film's comedy set-ups - most of which have been explored in similar offerings before. In short, while the trailers have presented What to Expect When You're Expecting as a challenger to the Apatow brand of heart and humor - the film is much more in line with Garry Marshall's more formulaic projects (such as New Year's Eve).
The basic story follows five couples as they each prepare for the responsibilities of parenthood. That said, each of the pairings are representative of different pre-parenthood situations that, while sometimes providing a pretty jumbled viewing experience, successfully cast a wide net that should allow most viewers to connect with at least a few of the various story arcs.
In short: Jules and Evan (Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison) are a celebrity dance couple who are forced to balance their high profile careers (and uber-fit lifestyle) with an unexpected pregnancy after only dating for a few months; Holly and a somewhat hesitant Alex (Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro), have unsuccessfully tried numerous fertility plans before deciding to adopt a child; Rosie and Marco (Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford) reunite years after high school, and following a few beers, engage in a one night stand that results in (yup) an unexpected pregnancy; Wendy and Gary Cooper (Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone) have attempted desperately for two years to have a child - until one night the pair decide to take a break from would-be baby making and end up pregnant. Lastly, Skyler and Ramsey Cooper (Brooklyn Decker and Dennis Quaid), father of soon-to-be-dad Gary, suddenly discover that despite a thirty year age difference, they too are (one more time) pregnant.
The number of characters that are juggled can be distracting (especially since some couples get more to do that others) and a few of the core storylines are particularly unique - at least when you consider the countless times these arcs have played out in prior films. That said, What to Expect When You're Expecting does not shy away from the difficulties of pre-parenthood - and is surprisingly adept at addressing some especially challenging developments. The film works very hard to showcase the various journeys of the women (as well as men) involved and successfully pays reverence to viewers who may have found themselves in a similar situation - but with a heartbreaking outcome. The balance is a tricky one, and while the film succeeds (at least in what it sets out to do), there are no doubt going to be plenty of audience members who walked into the movie looking for a mildly more grown-up version of Knocked Up only to find that Jones' actual film oftentimes sacrifices comedy for attempts at profundity - profundity that doesn't always hit the mark.
Still, there are plenty of heartfelt performances from actors and actresses who take ownership of where their respective characters fit into the larger What to Expect When You're Expecting picture - with especially solid efforts from Anna Kendrick, Rodrigo Santoro, Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone (not to take anything away from their castmates). Again, there isn't anything particularly ground-breaking about the characters, but coupled with competent on-screen performances and tried-and-true story beats, many audience members will find themselves engaged in a number of the plot threads by the end (even if not all of them are as successful - or relatable).
However, much like the overall film, additions like "The Dudes" - a group of four dads that provide Alex with pre-parent advice (played by Rob Huebel, Amir Talai, Chris Rock, and Thomas Lennon) - are hit or miss with their efforts in comedy and wisdom. As a result, it's hard to ignore a number of missed opportunities, and sometimes, eye-roll-inducing (as well as wasted) screen time.
No doubt plenty of viewers will find something to enjoy in What to Expect When You're Expecting, but the film is not the catch-all surprise ensemble that some comedy fans may have hoped for. Instead, the movie provides good chuckles and heartfelt drama - paired with an equal amount of familiar gags and flat story ideas. Movie lovers and would-be parents who decide to check the film out aren't likely to be blown away, but for those looking for a safe and familiar comedy-drama, What to Expect When You're Expecting is about what you'd expect.
If you’re still on the fence about What to Expect When You're Expecting, check out the trailer below:
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.
What to Expect When You're Expecting is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, thematic elements and language. Now playing in theaters.
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