If only What to Expect When You're Expecting had focused on the dads' group, and didn't just drop in on them a handful of times, we might have been onto something here.
Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon, and Rob Huebel are among the dudes who meet regularly to push their kids in tricked-out strollers, tote them in high-end carriers, and talk guy stuff in a confidential setting away from the wives. Their no-nonsense banter, and their unabashed worship of the buff, shirtless jogger who frequents their Atlanta park, liven up what is a rather predictable and cliched depiction of pregnancy. (And yes, we are clearly in Atlanta, as evidenced by the shameless proliferation of product placement for Delta Airlines, which is based there.)
A good-looking cast of popular actors can only do so much with material that's superficial and sitcom-like. Director Kirk Jones' film is "inspired by" the Heidi Murkoff advice book of the same name, one that every single pregnant woman on the planet surely has read since its initial publication in 1985. But similar to 2009's He's Just Not That Into You, the script from Shauna Cross and Heather Hach merely uses a familiar non-fiction title as a leaping-off point to explore various intertwined relationships, ostensibly for hilarious comic effect.
There are some laughs here and there and a few recognizable moments of honesty. Elizabeth Banks' character begins to touch on something relatable; an author and owner of a breastfeeding boutique, she finds her militant stances hard to maintain once she becomes pregnant herself. As she's about to give a big speech, she realizes all the platitudes written on her note cards are glossy and false; instead, she opens her mouth and dares to share her third-trimester misery with a huge, gawking crowd. Then again, this is one of those embarrassing moments of vulnerability that always seem to take place in front of a huge, gawking crowd in romantic comedies.
More often, we get the kind of contrived, shrieky wackiness that breaks out when all the pregnant women whose stories we've been following just happen to give birth at the same hospital on the same night. Being crowd-pleasing was obviously more important that being truthful.
We begin with Cameron Diaz as Jules, a fitness expert and the host of a Biggest Loser-style reality show. She didn't expect to be expecting with Evan (Matthew Morrison), her partner on a Dancing With the Stars-style reality show, but now these two must find a way to juggle a baby along with their new relationship and high-profile careers.
Jennifer Lopez plays Holly, a photographer who has been trying for years to conceive with her husband, Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), with no luck. They're hoping to adopt an orphan from Ethiopia, an emotionally intense, life-changing moment for which Lopez's character apparently felt the need to wear fake eyelashes.
Banks' Wendy also has been trying to have a baby for a while with her husband, Gary (Ben Falcone). Once the test finally comes up positive and they go to tell Gary's father (Dennis Quaid), an arrogant former NASCAR legend, they find that dad and his new trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker) also have gotten pregnant -- with no trouble at all. This competitive daddy-issue subplot, which culminates with a zany golf-cart showdown, is one of the more flimsy and cliched elements of the film.
Then there's the twentysomething Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford), competing food-truck entrepreneurs and former high school classmates who weren't all that careful when they finally gave into their flirtations one night. Kendrick is, as always, adorable and accessible and she and Crawford have a nice chemistry with each other.
Jones bops around between all these stories at a steady pace and only finds real energy when he comes back to the dads' group, which Alex joins in preparation for fatherhood. Within seconds of watching Rock riff on what it's really like to be a parent, you get a glimpse of how good this movie might have been. Instead, you should probably keep your expectations in check.
What to Expect When You're Expecting
Directed by Kirk Jones. Screenplay by Heather Hach and Shauna Cross, based on the Heidi Murkoff book. A Lionsgate release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, thematic elements, and language. Running time: 110 minutes.
Critic's rating: ** 1/2
Wendy .......... Elizabeth Banks
Jules .......... Cameron Diaz
Vic .......... Chris Rock
Holly ........... Jennifer Lopez