As star-studded adaptations of popular, nonfiction, non-narrative self-help books go, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” is surprisingly not terrible. It’s slickly produced, occasionally funny, and the father of two young ones myself, a lot of it rang true.
Directed by Kirk Jones and based on Heidi Murkoff’s mega-bestselling pregnancy bible, the movie follows the formula previously used by the “He’s Just Not That Into You” adaptation of a few years ago as well as the more recent “Think Like a Man.” The various lessons of the book are applied to a narrative feature, with a star-studded cast.
All of the cast members spend the film in different stages of impending parenthood. Cameron Diaz, playing a Jillian Michaels-like fitness celebrity and host of a weight loss-based reality show, finds herself pregnant by her costar on a Dancing With the Stars-like show, played by Glee’s Matthew Morrison.
Elizabeth Banks is the owner of a breastfeeding boutique (that’s right) who is expecting her first child with husband Ben Falcone (the sky marshal in “Bridesmaids”). Both, however, must contend with his competitive jerk of a father (Dennis Quaid) and his trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker), who are simultaneously expecting.
Jennifer Lopez and Rodridgo Santoro are a couple looking to adopt, and the husband combats his cold feet by befriending a crew of established dads, led by Chris Rock and also including Rob Huebel, Thomas Lennon and Amir Talai. Chase Crawford and Anna Kendrick are a young sort-of couple, who run competing food trucks.
Sure, it’s all based on a silly gimmick, and the movie is merely a clothesline on which to hang the books’s baby-related wisdom. But the film is clearly in tune with the sorts of anxieties often associated with first-time parenting, and is also frequently funny.
Maybe I’m biased as a dad, but the dads group was my favorite part. Not only do the scenes capture the anxieties of both impending and current fatherhood, but the film deploys Chris Rock the way few movies have, but more should- in a niche supporting role, showing up five hilarious minutes at a time.
I also really enjoyed Banks and Falcone as a couple. Morrison, who on the first season of Glee played the husband in the most maligned pregnancy subplot in television history, goes to that well again, although this time his partner isn’t faking it. Diaz, meanwhile, plays the Hard Driving Professional Woman Who Just Needs to Slow Down and Appreciate Things, for at least the tenth different time.
It’s always great to see Kendrick, who has inexplicably barely been in anything since “Up in the Air,” although she and Crawford must be the skinniest people to ever operate a food truck.
Sure, there are some missteps. The film feels the need for extended, pointless, cameo-filled parodies of both The Biggest Loser and Dancing With the Stars, neither of which yield any laughs. There are a couple of long setpieces, including a golf cart race between Falcone and Quaid, that aren’t worth the time.
And, in the tradition of “He’s Just Not That Into You”‘s depiction of Baltimore as a nearly all-white yuppie haven, ‘What to Expect’ is set in a version of Atlanta in which just about the only black person is Chris Rock.
“What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is no masterpiece, and I’m sure I’ll never see it again. But overall, it’s actually surprisingly tolerable.