While rooted in an advice book that pregnant women reportedly swear by, the Hollywood dramedy “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” contains little that any parent-to-be can truly expect. The stork opera uses cliched scenarios and phony dramatics to address serious issues, and plays it safe and predictably when seeking laughs.
Director Kirk Jones, who made the agreeable Irish village indie “Waking Ned Devine” and the sappy Hollywood drama “Everybody’s Fine,” continues in the latter vein with this conventional tapestry starring big-name actors and an airline logo.
The story, written by Shauna Cross and Heather Hach and “inspired” by Heidi Murkoff’s nonfiction best-seller, follows five expectant Atlanta couples, from an opening barf scene to the bundle-of-joy closure.
Jules (Cameron Diaz) and Evan (Matthew Morrison) are reality TV stars forced to rethink their career-centered priorities when Jules unexpectedly gets pregnant.
Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), a breastfeeding advocate and pregnancy maven, experiences all the discomforts and none of the glow when she herself is expecting. Her insecure husband, Gary (Ben Falcone), meanwhile, finds himself one-upped by his maniacally competitive father (Dennis Quaid), whose much younger wife (Brooklyn Decker), too, is pregnant — with twins.
Holly (Jennifer Lopez), a photographer unable to conceive, and her husband, Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), decide to adopt an Ethiopian boy. Having second thoughts, Alex joins the “dudes’ group,” a quartet of moaning but fatherhood-extolling stroller-pushing men led by the wisecracking Vic (Chris Rock).
Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford), finally, are young food-truck operators whose one-nighter results in pregnancy.
Any of these situations could have proven viable and absorbing had it been depicted with honesty and dimension. Instead, however, the film brings to mind a dramatized checklist, with each character serving as a facet of the pregnancy picture.
The action — everything from a sonogram montage to a delivery-room scare — is from the mold. A potentially involving disagreement over whether to circumcise a baby gets the gloss-over. A golf cart race is embarrassingly unfunny.
Credibility is also missing from the climax, in which the pregnant women all give birth in the same hospital on the same day.
All of which totals the latest example of the Hollywood mentality that believes comedies have to be big, broad and middle-ground to sell tickets, and of the brand of theme tapestry that packs red-carpet stars into a trite story featuring a box office-friendly subject.
Only Kendrick is able to create a believable character who conveys genuine emotion. For sheer comedy, Banks has amusing moments when her control-freak character surrenders to the realities of the pregnant body. Rock and his fellow dudes supply juice but exist primarily to represent the traditional-values line.
Movie Review: What to Expect When You’re Expecting *½