‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’: How many clichés does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

May 14, 2012

I’m not sure who thought it would be a good idea to try to make a movie out of the self-help pregnancy guide, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” but I have to assume that same person is currently hard at work on the video game. Which will undoubtedly be as lame and tired as this movie.

The 1984 book, by Heidi Murkoff, is a perennial best-seller for its witty but honest assessment of the changes that women go through when they’re pregnant, the effect that has on her partner – and the subsequent transition of their relationship and their lives once the baby arrives.

But what writers Shauna Cross (who wrote the limp “Whip It”) and Heather Hach have come up with is like a melange of weak TV-movie pregnancy plots. The writers split the focus between three couples expecting babies, one couple that’s adopting and one single woman who confronts an unexpected pregnancy after a one-night hook-up. In that way, the writers and director Kirk Jones are able to focus almost completely on the clichés, without having to actually get very deep with any of the stories.

Let’s see: There’s Cameron Diaz as a personal trainer who’s the star of a “Biggest Loser”-type TV show. She winds up pregnant with her boyfriend (Matthew Morrison), one of the professional dancers on a “Dancing with the Stars”-type show.

There’s Elizabeth Banks, married to Ben Falcone (the air marshal from “Bridesmaids”); she runs a boutique that specializes in supplies for the breast-feeding mother (just so her assistant can say, “We’re going to need more nipple cream”). Her husband, a dentist, is the son of a famous NASCAR driver (Dennis Quaid), whose latest wife, Brooklyn Decker, is also pregnant. Just to be really trite, the son has daddy issues, because Dad never let him win at anything.

(Let’s not even get into the likelihood that a woman who looks like Banks would be married to someone who looks like Falcone, a funny guy to be sure but, really? When we later learn that, in fact, he was a one-time contestant on Diaz’s weight-loss show when he weighed 100 pounds more – no way.)

Then there’s a photographer (Jennifer Lopez) and her advertising-man hubby (Rodrigo Santoro), who are infertile and adopting a baby from Ethiopia. Finally, there’s a pair of food-truck entrepreneurs (Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford), rivals and former high school pals who connect one night, with not-unexpected results.

Wait, you’re saying – where does Chris Rock fit in to this (because he’s so prominently featured in the commercials)? He’s part of the “dudes group,” a bunch of dads who get together regularly to take their kids to the park and let off steam: What happens in dudes’ group stays in dudes’ group. How hilarious is that? They’re drafted to help Santoro understand what he’s in for when his baby arrives. Even the presence of Rock and Thomas Lennon can’t elevate the weak writing.

What you’ve got is a series of sketches, variations on a theme, none of them too long, none of them in any way original – and very little of it amusing. Jones doesn’t need to think, just to mix and match, hopping from couple to couple without pausing for character development or story (since the plotline is already baked in).

The only one who actually finds the funny is Banks. Rock gets off a couple of decent lines and so does Megan Mullally, who shows up playing herself on the same “Dancing with the Stars” spoof. Several other people show up as themselves as well – Whitney Port, Dwyane Wade – and their presence alone is supposed to trigger laughs. It doesn’t.

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is like a Whitman’s sampler, in which every piece turns out to be a stale chocolate-covered cherry – the ones you bite and then sneak back into the box when no one’s looking.

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