Sandra Hall June 02, 2012
Reviewer rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Reader rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars (10 votes)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Actors: Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Matthew Morrison, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Banks, Chace Crawford, Brooklyn Decker, Anna Kendrick
Director: Kirk Jones
Screen writer: Shauna Cross & Heather Hach
OFLC rating: M
Clashes in tone make for an unwieldy adaptation of a 28-year bestseller.
Diet manuals, fitness primers, self-help books - if they hang around the New York Times bestseller lists for long enough, Hollywood will be tempted to try massaging them into movie scripts.
So it was with What to Expect When You're Expecting, a pregnancy guide that has been sitting on the NYT list since its first edition was published in 1984. It's now been reworked as an ensemble comedy for the Bridesmaids crowd. The jokes aren't nearly as gross but the intentions are the same. It's aiming to be the focus of a girls' night out. It's hoped that mothers-to-be, their mothers and their friends will be able to bond over its trawl through the assorted joys, miracles, ironies and indignities involved in giving birth.
And partners are invited, too. By way of enticement, a fathers' group has been written into the storyline. Chris Rock plays its leading spirit and if you interpret that piece of casting as a sign that the script's gag writers have been pushed to desperation, you're right.
The film is directed by Kirk Jones, a Brit who's taking a big cultural leap from the whimsicalities of his previous film, Nanny McPhee, which had Emma Thompson as a magically endowed governess helping Colin Firth bring his seven motherless children into line. No whimsicalities here. Cameron Diaz opens the show by uncorking the inner delinquent she delivered up last year in Bad Teacher. This time she pours it into the thoroughly modern role of a TV fitness instructor who stars in a weight-loss program and discovers she's pregnant straight after winning a celebrity dance contest. Struck by a nocturnal bout of morning sickness, she thrills her audience of millions by throwing up in the cup that is her prize.
Elizabeth Banks has an even more elemental part in the plot as the owner of a babywear boutique who doubles as the author of books proselytising about the benefits of breastfeeding. These qualifications set her up for most of the bodily function jokes. She's also assigned the most generous quota of four-letter words. And she's been given Australian comic Rebel Wilson as her sidekick. Wilson was last seen in Bridesmaids. So, too, was Ben Falcone, who plays Banks's neurotic husband. He's always been obsessed with the macho antics of his father (Dennis Quaid), a retired racing-car driver who's married a leggy blonde half his age and is now expecting twins with her. Quaid relishes this role - as he should, because it's the most entertaining thing in the picture. Ageing roues have become his stock-in-trade lately and the manic gleam in his eye is used to telling effect.
Anna Kendrick and Jennifer Lopez don't have nearly as much fun. They've been entrusted with the mawkish bits. Kendrick is cast as a girl who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a boy (Chace Crawford) who was once her high-school crush. When she decides to keep the baby, he promises to see her through and a rocky but predictable romance ensues.
Lopez's role is even more doleful. She's a photographer who spends much of her time posing children for family portraits while lamenting her inability to have a child of her own. She and her partner (Rodrigo Santoro) eventually make up their minds to adopt an Ethiopian orphan, although he isn't exactly sure they're doing the right thing. What follows is a glibly simplistic treatment of a complicated question, leading to a tear-jerking finale at odds with everything else in the film.
Not that consistency is its strong suit. It veers wildly between slapstick and sentimentality and nobody but Quaid manages to conjure up much enthusiasm for what they're doing - probably because their characters have been fashioned expressly to suit the script's determination to include all relevant demographic groups. After her uninhibited curtain-raiser, Diaz fails to create any more havoc. While the script requires her to prance around a lot showing off her highly toned torso, she makes a half-hearted narcissist. And she doesn't get much reaction from Glee's Matthew Morrison, cast as her unbelievably amiable boyfriend.
Banks and Falcone have a more boisterous time of it but the results are no funnier. Even though Banks is always worth watching for her capacity for making mischief, she can't do much with this script. There's a limit to the laughs you can extract from an audience by tottering around bandy-legged, complaining about back ache and bladder pressure.
In one of his publicity shots for the movie, Jones wears a slightly glazed expression, as if he's wondering why he ever agreed to take on such a leaden exercise - although the box office may yet bring reassurance. It can be funny that way.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING
Directed by Kirk Jones
Rated M, 110 minutes