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'What to Expect When You're Expecting' is unexpectedly sweet ✭✭ 1/2

"What to Expect When You're Expecting"is a"Valentine's Day"take on impending parenthood. Assorted couples cope with pregnancies planned and unplanned, adoption, and the epic change that is coming to their lives.

It's wafer-thin, but it has plenty of laughs — a lot of them involving pregnant women's bodily functions, the rest coming from Chris Rock, who unloads lots of daddy-to-be wisdom on one prospective father. But what's surprising is how touching this film — from the director of "Waking Ned Devine" — manages to be. Kirk Jones and the screenwriters found real pathos in adapting the Heidi Murkoff self-help book, dubbed America's pregnancy bible.

Elizabeth Banks plays Wendy, a self-help book author, a pregnancy expert who has never been able to get pregnant herself. Until now. She and hubby Gary (Ben Falcone) are all set to glow with the "angel's kisses" of "this miracle." And then her husband's ex-race car driver dad (Dennis Quaid) and his trophy bride (Brooklyn Decker) one-up them. Father- and mother-in-law are expecting twins.

Anna Kendrick is the food-truck chef whose one-night tumble with a high school flame (Chace Crawford), also a food-truck cook, put her in a family way.

Cameron Diaz is a TV fitness guru newly pregnant with her "Celebrity Dance Factor" partner (Matthew Morrison of TV's"Glee."). Sure, she found out she was pregnant by throwing up on live TV. But she figures as fit as she is, she can do this pregnancy thing in her spare time.

And Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro are buying the house and prepping for an adoption. Santoro's Alex is the guy his wife sends to a "dudes group," daddies who trundle their kids through the parks of Los Angeles. And that's where daddy Chris Rock presides.

"Ready? There's no such thing as ready," Rock's character, Vic, bellows. "You just jump on a moving train, and die."

Every so often, the "dudes" (Thomas Lennon is a member, and the very funny Joe Manganiello is the single, womanizing photographer-jock they idolize) gather to dispense more warnings to Alex.

And then we return to Wendy, who has built a career out of romanticizing this experience. If Rock is the voice of comic wisdom in "What to Expect," Banks is its heart. She brings pathos and humor to a character who is hell-bent on loving this circle-of-life thing, until she's overwhelmed.

Interestingly, the actresses involved in this movie all chose to play characters outside their own parenting experience. Lopez has children, and plays a woman who can't. Banks, playing a woman determined to love pregnancy, had her baby through a surrogate. Kendrick and Diaz and model-turned-actress Decker aren't moms.

That doesn't hurt the film, which is basically a light, superficial and frothy little romp through the pregnancy experience. It's choppy and episodic, and funny — especially when Rock, a veteran dad in real life — is holding court. But the overarching message is both moving and amusing.

Expecting a baby? You have no idea what to expect.

'What to Expect When You're Expecting' -- 2 1/2 stars

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, thematic elements and language)

Running time: 1:38

Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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