* (out of four)
Imagine a relatable, perceptive movie that honestly confronts the unforeseen challenges and unrecognized wonders of pregnancy. You know, what to expect when you're expecting.
Now imagine the exact opposite and you’ll know what to expect from “What to Expect,” which uncovers major breakthroughs such as the importance of communication and the eventual need for parents to agree on the baby’s name. Why has no one prepared parents for these trials before?!
Adapted from Heidi Murkoff’s heralded 1984 self-help book, “What to Expect” transforms from a gestation expert to a casual observer with no interest in preparation whatsoever. None of the characters spend any time researching anything, so when an adopting couple (Jennifer Lopez, Rodrigo Santoro) hears that they must continue teaching their son about his Ethiopian heritage, it's the first time they've considered the country as anything but an adoption site and a round-trip ticket.
Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford) seem surprised that a one-night stand can result in pregnancy, leading to a so-called player's smoothest-ever transition to sudden commitment. Meanwhile, Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) envies how effortless pregnancy looks on her father-in-law's trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker), who says “y’all” a lot in the only Southern accent of this Atlanta-set story. For those wondering just how a rich, beautiful TV star copes with the pressures of pregnancy, Jules (Cameron Diaz) grows a little one while hosting the weight-loss show “Lose It and Weep,” which offers other characters a chance to laugh at the overweight people working to shed some pounds.
Not only does no one express thoughts or fears about their babies’ health, a group of dads (including Chris Rock and Thomas Lennon) salutes escaping from their wives and laughs off the foibles of parenting, including absent-mindedness that could easily result in life-altering injuries for their kids. Following the rule that every storyline must intersect as if only these 10 people live in Atlanta, writers Shauna Cross (“Whip It”) and Heather Hach make no effort toward a movie about the daily struggles of pregnancy or the difficult, fragile beauty of human life. This unfunny and cheaply manipulative movie, which makes the shallow adaptation of “He's Just Not That Into You” look like sage advice, treats children like superficial cutie-pies as seen by someone who’s spent roughly five minutes with a kid.
Both men and women know babies are incredible, but they’re small people, not toys whose smiles liven up the background while wealthy couples bicker about circumcision. (On that subject, Evan [Matthew Morrison] says he’d “feel shafted if we didn’t do it.”) The movie's idea of a man and a woman considering the other's perspective comes when Evan eats a donut and Jules eats a banana.
With this much intelligence about pregnancy, “What to Expect” may as well have come from the instructions on how to build a table.
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