Pregnancy is a time in a couple’s life that is rife with dramatic and comedic possibilities, which makes it the perfect subject to apply all the trappings of your standard romantic comedy.
However, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” breaks away from that rom-com formula just enough to succeed as a heartfelt, ensemble comedy.
Fortunately, the movie takes only the title from the best-selling pregnancy self-help book it is based on; I’ve flipped through that bad boy and as a film, it would make about as much sense as “Auto Repair for Dummies.”
“Expecting” instead follows five loosely connected couples as they endure the trials and tribulations of bringing a new life into this world.
Recent cinematic history is strewn with the carcasses of romantic comedies like “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve,” which featured massive casts with converging plotlines that banked on the prospect that bigger was better. In case you are wondering, it’s not.
“Expecting” is a lot leaner and a lot more focused than those other movies and therefore is a lot better. Did this approach mean I loved the adoption drama of Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) or the awkward pairing of overbearing fitness guru Jules (Cameron Diaz) and her bland, reality-television dancing partner, Evan (Matthew Morrison)? It does not.
But the upside of a movie like this is that we aren’t trapped with these less-than-likable characters for the duration of the film. The downside is that we get less time with the characters we do care about.
“Expecting” is nearly stolen by the dad’s group of comedic actors, Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon, Rob Huebel, and Amir Talai, that a reluctant Alex goes to for advice. They spend their Saturdays pushing strollers through the park and cracking wise on the perils of fatherhood.
The movie also gets a lot of comedic mileage out of Rock’s accident-prone toddler.
The heart of “Expecting” rests with Elizabeth Banks who plays Wendy, the owner of a nursing boutique store, whose enthusiasm to get pregnant is tempered by the harsh physical realities of the process.
Her husband, Gary (Ben Falcone), is loving and supportive, but he has his own issues with his competitive, race-car-driver father (Dennis Quaid), whose trophy-wife Skylar (Brooklyn Decker) gets pregnant at the same time as Wendy. Skylar’s seemingly effortless pregnancy only adds insult to injury for Wendy.
Harmlessly rounding out the cast are Rosie (the adorable Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford), a pair of food truck owners who are forced to deal with the repercussions of a one-night stand.
“Expecting” was helmed by British director Kirk Jones, best known for directing “Nanny McPhee” and the sentimental, but forgettable “Everybody’s Fine.” Jones does a good job of keeping the tone even and juggling the various plotlines, but he should be most applauded for the casting, especially of the supporting roles, which includes scene-stealer Rebel Wilson as Wendy’s assistant, Janice.
This is a movie that will strike the biggest chord with parents who will be reminded of that strange and wonderful time that changed their lives forever.
“Expecting” is uneven and at times struggles under its own weight, but overcomes its shortcomings to be worthy of ponying up for a babysitter for the rare parental date night.
“What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, thematic elements, and language.