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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Elizabeth Banks, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Brooklyn Decker, Chace Crawford, Matthew Morrison, Ben Falcone, Anna Kendrick, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock, Rodrigo Santoro, Thomas Lennon
DIRECTED BY
Kirk Jones
SCREENPLAY
Heather Hach, Heidi Murkoff, Shauna Cross
MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13
RUNNING TIME
110 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Lionsgate Films
DVD EXTRAS
Extras will include 2 featurettes ("The Dudes Unscrewed", "What to Expect and the Pregnancy Bible"), deleted scenes, and a digital copy of the film.
 "What To Expect When You're Expecting" Review 
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I have a confession.

I am not pregnant. I've never been pregnant. Barring any unforeseen biological miracles, I will never be pregnant. Thus, in all likelihood, I am not the target audience for What To Expect When You're Expecting, a film inspired by the New York Times bestseller of same name but, in actuality, nothing like that bestseller.

The book What To Expect When You're Expecting is a rather serious self-help book recognizing the real world of pregnancy and all that can go right and wrong during it. What To Expect When You're Expecting the movie, however, is nothing more than a fictionalized dramedy cartoon featuring director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) doing his best Garry Marshall imitation and serving up several couples all bound together by the common ground of the pregnancy experience.

Try to keep up.

Unable to conceive her own child, Holly (Jennifer Lopez) is a semi-successful photographer who has committed herself and her reluctant hubby Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) to adopting an Ethiopian child.

After years of trying, breast-feeding advocate Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and her hubby (Ben Falcone) have finally managed to become pregnant at almost precisely the exact time that Wendy becomes a published children's author and is invited to be a keynote speaker at a major conference.

Wendy's father-in-law, a retired NASCAR champ named Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), on the other hand, has managed to knock up his trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker), much to the chagrin of his destined to come in second place son.

As if there wasn't enough of a coolness factor in the film, Jones and his screenwriters toss in fitness guru Jules (Cameron Diaz) and Evan (Matthew Morrison), who was apparently much more than her dance partner on a Dancing With the Stars style show.

Finally, in an effort to appeal to the younger set, What To Expect When You're Expecting adds in a younger couple to the mix, competing food cart vendors Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford), who together have one of the film's most emotionally resonant storylines yet still manage to feel completely extraneous.

Oh, and lest I forget, comedian Chris Rock shows up heading a posse known as "The Dudes Group," a small group of allegedly happily married fathers who gather regularly in the park and spew forth cliche'd advice to one another while offering stereotypical cliche's of support while swooning over Davis (Joe Manganiello), apparently the only one of their group who has thus far managed to avoid the marriage and baby traps.

If this film had managed to maintain the serious tone of the book upon which it is based, we might have ended up with a Babel like film, but instead we end up with just babble. While the film is played for the most part lightly, it's actually most successful during its fleeting moments of authenticity and drama.

Anna Kendrick, for example, is genuinely moving as she weaves her way through the emotions of an unwanted pregnancy that goes in an unexpected direction for her, while Jennifer Lopez has a couple scenes in the film where you catch a glimpse of just how powerful her storyline could have been had Kirk Jones not decided to turn this sucker into a laugh-fest. In fact, the film is so shallow and lame in its treatment of pregnancy that it's difficult to imagine that it's penned by two female writers, Shauna Cross (Whip It) and Heather Hach (Freaky Friday and Broadway's Legally Blonde: The Musical).

It seems like every single time the film gets close to creating a genuinely satisfying scene, the drama is either pulled back or the comedy is incredibly amped up. The one performance that seems to really survive is that of Elizabeth Banks, whose turn as the idealistic yet increasingly realistic Wendy runs the gamut from hilarious to deeply humane to tremendously heartfelt. Ben Falcone is well matched with her, and their scenes together are among the film's most entertaining and satisfying experiences.

On the flip side, the coupling of Jules and Evans is far too close to reality television to successfully exist in a film that, at the very least, represent some semblance of genuineness in its subject matter. Sure, Diaz and Morrison invest themselves decently in the goings on and don't necessarily shame themselves. It's not their fault that they're stuck with cartoon caricatures and such godawful make-up that you can't help but look at Diaz's belly and wonder if, just perhaps, Gollum is going to come screeching out of there at any given moment.

Or even worse, perhaps, Ryan Seacrest.

If you liked Talladega Nights, then you'll likely enjoy Dennis Quaid's over-the-top take on the ultra-competitive Ramsey and Brooklyn Decker's entertainingly ditzy appearance as the trophy wife who also manages to breeze through pregnancy with barely even a pound gained or a contraction felt.

If you go into What To Expect When You're Expecting expecting that somehow Jones, Hach and Cross have managed to adapt the 14-million selling book upon which it is inspired then you're likely to come away incredibly disappointed. If, however, you can abandon all expectations and surrender to the rather naive assertion that pregnancy and childbirth are the penultimate experience of coupledom then you may find yourself at least modestly enjoying threads of the cinematic experience.

There are fleeting moments in What To Expect When You're Expecting that work incredibly well, unfortunately they're surrounded by extended scenes that fall comically flat and dramatically pretentious. I suppose, perhaps, that when it comes down to it What To Expect When You're Expecting is a lot like the pregnancy experience itself - the few moments of cuteness and heart can't make up for the rest of the parts that just plain suck.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic   



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