Directed by: Kirk Jones
Premise: An adaptation of the pregnancy advice book by Heidi Murkoff. The film follows several couples’ experiences through pregnancy.
What Works: What to Expect When You’re Expecting has some effective filmmaking craft to it. The picture is well shot and very well edited with some clever transitions between scenes. The actors in the film acquit themselves well enough and there is quite a bit of humor which helps the film along.
What Doesn’t: What to Expect When You’re Expecting is the latest film in a trend of pictures like He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day, and New Year’s Eve in which an ensemble of high profile actors are cast in interweaving narratives, and like those films, What to Expect has all of the same failings. The main problem with these films, and What to Expect is especially bad in this regard, is that none of the scenarios have a coherent story to them. At the most basic level, stories are chains of events linked in a cause and effect relationship but between the conception and the birth nothing of consequence happens in any of these stories. The film establishes beginnings for its narratives but does not follow them up. There is no rising tension, or any tension at all for that matter, and What to Expect jumps around from one set of characters to another without anything actually happening. As a consequence there is no substance to the film. There are too many couples and since there isn’t enough screen time available to craft meaningful stories the screenwriters fall back on clichés and the film walks through every worn out platitude about pregnancy and parenthood. Another common flaw of these multi-narrative pictures is that in multiplying the number of plotlines the filmmakers diminish their ability to present full characters. The celebrity actors of this film have been cast based on the public image that they have cultivated. No one is really required to act so much as just mime their most popular shtick. That is not uncommon for Hollywood actors but it is worse in What to Expect. Characters are defined by their actions, struggles, and choices but the plotlines are watered down to the point that the characters have no choices to make and never act decisively, so the whole film is a parade of celebrity actors filling screen time until the film moves onto someone else. The reliance on Hollywood actors leads to another problem for the film. The characters are almost entirely white and upper class. While this is also not unusual for a Hollywood film, What to Expect suffers because it presents itself as representing a broad cross section of experiences but the characters all come from a very narrow socio-economic group. Partly as a result of the lazy writing and haphazard construction, What to Expect When You’re Expecting also suffers from its tone. The moviemakers attempt to keep their film light but this backfires when What to Expect includes a miscarriage plotline between a couple played by Anna Kendrick and Chase Crawford. The issue this couple faces is a serious one and the film dabbles in drama but then cuts back to the sitcom-like antics of its other plotlines. That makes the miscarriage story come across as out of place and even vulgar within the context of the film.
Bottom Line: What to Expect When You’re Expecting is a collection of pregnancy film clichés that is at turns obnoxious and narrow minded. It has nothing to say about modern pregnancy and it is a complete failure in storytelling.
Episode: #391 (June 10, 2012)