‘What to Expect ...’ remains safe and generally dull

By Gary Clift

Kirk Jones’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” near-miss title and all, is modestly more successful than have been other multi-romance-plot movies we’ve recently seen. But comparing anything to this year’s “New Year’s Eve,” an awful film, or 2010’s “Valentine’s Day,” for example, is unlikely to give moviegoers much confidence in the new product.

These movies use a sort of “Love Boat” format, cutting from story to story and back again and then having all the plots come to their climaxes at about the same time. No one of the stories gets enough screen time to make any of the characters more than a sketch or any of their problems more than a cliche.

For example, in the new film’s least important story, TV physical trainer Jules (Cameron Diaz) is impregnated by her t.v. dance competition partner. They decide to stay together, though they quibble about the circumcision of their potential son. She goes on filming her show. She gets bigger. She is rushed to the hospital to deliver.

This isn’t much of a story, particularly if the film isn’t going to go into detail about the pregnancy, the personalities, or surrounding influences—for example, do these characters have parents and siblings interested in the coming birth? All the references to TV are significant, though, in this movie, where the characters are either on t.v. or are watching TV about half the running time.

After all, none of them seem to have any sort of first tier productive job, so no one loses if they are watching the tube. instead of working. They are retired race car drivers, free lance underwater photographers, dance celebrities, kid’s book authors, and cooks in food-serving step vans. No farmers. No engineers. No accountants or secretaries or carpenters. If they had real jobs, they might not be ready to switch scenes as often as the movie is ready with pop music segues, as it is perhaps a dozen times during the film’s two hour run.

The cooks, a young couple (Anna Kendrick plays the girl) who have never been out on a date and who lose their baby before they are fully committed to each other, are the most interesting of the couples. Less interesting are the photog (Jennifer Lopez—remember her?) and her hubby, who end up going to Ethiopia to adopt. Less interesting still is the couple dominated by the author (Elizabeth Banks, playing very broadly) who complains publicly about how unpleasant it is to be pregnant.

Least realistic and also least attractive is the couple including the author’s father-in-law, an old stock car racer played by Dennis Quaid, and his perfect young wife, played by the drawling Brooklyn Decker, a big bikini model. And then there are “The Dudes”—one cringes every time the name is used or the characters recur—who are an informal support group of four thirty-something fathers of infants. One of the dudes is Chris Rock.

And yet the movie rarely manages to be funny. When it gets laughs, it is through quips. One guy has four kids. “Two more and I got poll bearers.” A dentist has a new rapper patient. “Its my first grill.” The step-mother, who “was born in 1984,” looks at her step-son, who is older than she, and says, “They grow up so fast.” I found the references to nipple creme less amusing.

Because pregnancy and birth are subjects that only get superficial treatment in the movies, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” gets to the entry way of several interesting subjects. But it never steps over a threshold. It remains safe and generally dull and, worst of all, rarely funny. But ticketholders will get to see the characters watch a lot of TV. There’s a selling point.

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