REVIEW: What To Expect When You're Expecting. Starring Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Anna Kendrick, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock. Directed by Kirk Jones, M, State Cinema.
Parenthood has been fertile ground (no pun intended) for film-makers, and when there's a best-selling book involved, Hollywood latches on to it quicker than flies on to a dirty nappy.
What To Expect When You're Expecting is a pregnancy manual rather than a collection of anecdotes – so how to turn it into a movie? Easy – allocate bits of it to couples in a rom-com. Just the thing when Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve have made the ensemble cast popular again.
Everyone's experience of pregnancy and parenthood is different, and What To Expect tries to reflect this diversity while remaining lighthearted, but the result is stereotyped characters who act as mouthpieces for snippets of advice.
It tries to cover a lot of subjects and situations – wondering if you're ready to have a child, trying not to repeat your own parents' mistakes, pregnancy drawing together two people who barely know each other – but moves too fast to afford them any depth. No single parents, either, and happy endings assured all round.
There's a couple (Elizabeth Banks, Ben Falcone) whose attempts to conceive finally pay off, at the same time as the husband's father (Dennis Quaid) is having a baby with his young trophy wife.
A 30-something celebrity (Cameron Diaz) hooks up with her partner on a TV dance competition (Glee's Matthew Morrison in his first big film role) and soon has the media spotlight focused on her expanding belly, while two 20-somethings (Twilight's Anna Kendrick and Gossip Girl's Chace Crawford) are dealing with the results of a one-night stand. Another couple (Jennifer Lopez, Rodrigo Santoro) want to adopt, despite his uncertainties.
Even for a rom-com, What To Expect is chocker with cliches – there are at least two musical montages, and some crying in the rain, before the sweating and screaming in the delivery room.
Throw in celebrity cameos and plenty of product placement, including a certain model of car (and, if you look carefully, shelves full of copies of the book in the same scene).
In between reminders of how parents put up with messes and sleepless nights because the emotional payoff is worth it, there are the inevitable gags about the body changes that go with pregnancy, but these tend towards the stop-the-conversation-dead variety rather than having any wit.
Even the circumcision debate is crudely shoehorned into the script. Ironically, it's a group of fathers, led by Chris Rock, who have the best lines as they gather at the park each week with their offspring to let off steam.
There's a miscarriage, but the heartbreak of infertility is skimmed over (notably with Lopez's character), while the cast full of beautiful people with Hollywood bodies may leave some couples feeling inadequate in other areas. The ladies get to don some impressive prosthetic bellies, though.
If you're parents looking for an undemanding chuckle, What To Expect When You're Expecting fits the bill. But I was left wondering what the Brits (Richard Curtis immediately springs to mind) would have done with the same material. All that Love, Actually has consequences, you know.
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