Ensemble pieces, whether they be comedy or drama, are tricky things: too many characters usually get introduced, forcing audiences to pick and choose who they will follow. The best of these (like The Usual Suspects) never forces the audience to make that choice, instead weaving the characters throughout the story to create an enjoyable, albeit curvy, experience. What to Expect When You're Expecting tries very hard to achieve that, but never gets it quite right. Funny at times but unnecessarily poignant and dull at others, it's a date night film that might give guys the heebie-jeebies on the way home, as talk will inevitably turn to having children. At its core however is a tale with too many characters, whom you instantly forget when the lights kick on during the credits. What to Expect tries to be a laugh-out-loud fest, touching ensemble drama, tear-jerker, and a couple of other genres thrown in for good measure. And like the jack of all trades, it excels at none of them, throwing away good comedy scenes to stand on a soapbox which no one came to hear.
What to Expect follows the lives of five interconnected couples as they experience pregnancy in vastly different ways. TV fitness guru Jules (Cameron Diaz, There's Something About Mary) and dance show colleague Evan (Matthew Morrison, Glee) don't realize how their pregnacy will affect their high-flying celebrity careers; Wendy (Elizabeth Banks, 40 Year Old Virgin) and Gary (Ben Falcone, Bridesmaids) get more than they bargained for as hormones take Wendy down, allthewhile competing with Gary's father (Dennis Quaid, Day After Tomorrow) and his much younger trophy wife (Brookyn Decker, Just Go With It); while fertility issues force Holly (Jennifer Lopez, The Cell) and a nervous Alex (Rodrigo Santoro, 300) to adopt from an Ethiopian tribe. There's also a short-lived 'oops' pregnancy storyline involving two 20-somethings, Marco (Chace Crawford, The Covenant) and Rosie (Anna Kendrick, Twilight). If you get the sense that too much is going on here to keep up, you're not alone: there's also a 'dudes' support group, led by Vic (Chris Rock, Dogma) that tries to console the anxious Alex. Director Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee) and writer Shauna Cross (Whip It) try to weave these stories into a connected narrative, but those aren't done well, with only a sprinkling of scenes showing one couple leaving the scene as another enters. The story would have gained much from these per-chance meetings, but instead we are forced to accept them as mere window-dressing.
The film's funniest scenes appear in Act 3, as our couples begin to give birth. Banks' breakdown and demand for an epidermal does leave you laughing; but any residual effect is lost by the sudden introduction of unecessary drama and even danger. It's also clear that several actors are totally miscast in What to Expect including Rock, who seems uncomfortable dispensing advice to Alex in the role of sellout dad. Several plots are also unneeded, especially those involving the Gen Y-ers. Both Crawford and Kendrick have good chemistry here, and I would have appreciated an entire story devoted to them; instead, they appear too infrequently and thus stay off our radar for 30 minutes or more during the film.
Even though What to Expect is no more than barely passable date night material, there is the promise of gaining points with your partner for sticking through it. But bring the tissue: women will tear up often, while you'll wonder if you can sneak out to see The Avengers again. Complete this uncomfortable mission, and I guarantee you'll either erase red marks from your ledger or bank a few for the next time your single, rich friend with six-pack abs calls for a Vegas trip. This promise of future glory is the only way you'll make it through such a bore of a movie.
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