Watched May 14, 2012
Eric Forthun’s review:
A film that paints broad strokes about life, or in this case pregnancy, is always doomed to fail. Concentrating on one specific element of that trade can actually work, and that’s how most films thrive: by grabbing something that applies to one certain character and enhancing it in ways that make us care for them. With What to Expect When You’re Expecting, there’s no nuance in how these situations are handled, largely due to the film itself balancing about twelve main characters that receive the development of a toddler. Each one is handed the stereotype of how their type of person reacts in these situations, and the film thrives off of the flaws of these characters; the situational humor and connections between these characters is sometimes awful. There are highlights, like Rock and his crew of baby daddies actually delivering some solid laughs, but the film seems more geared toward expectant mothers or ones with newborns. That’s not a wide range for a film that tries to appeal to the masses with its supposedly universal storylines.
The movie jumps around from story to story, but I’ll just jump right in: there are clichés abound in every story. Normally, I’ll look past a set of clichés if they’re handled appropriately (i.e., this year’s solid The Five-Year Engagement), but when they don’t stomp on any new ground or provide any solid laughs, that’s typically not a good sign. When a comedy has a highlight relationship centered around a woman having a miscarriage with a guy she slept with once, that’s not exactly good storytelling. Granted, that story is actually quite solid, and it’s one I would’ve liked to see as a stand-alone feature; there’s actually some heart and soul there, particularly from Kendrick, who’s always good. Even Crawford is surprisingly good there, as they both play off one another’s charm and handle the trite material with some sophistication. Those are the moments where the actors lift the material up.
But then there’s every other story that fills out the far too long 110-minute run time. Diaz and Morrison are solid in their parts, except for the fact that their story goes in every direction we expect it to. Plus, their characters don’t tread any new ground on the subject matter; is discussing circumcision for a baby really something that should take up close to ten minutes of storytelling? I don’t think so. Decker and Quaid are the most absurd, idiotic story in the film; Decker sneezes and gives birth to her children. It’s considered funny because she’s so pristine and perfect throughout the childbirth, and that she’s young enough to be his daughter. Aren’t those jokes just so new and refreshing? Those are the types of stories I can’t comprehend. I wonder who wrote those lines, what made them think they were funny, and why they decided to make entire characters based on one central idea. That can work in theory, or when they’re surrounded by funny jokes, but this one derives all the jokes from the premise we’ve heard, seen, and understood hundreds of times before.
I could say I’m being too harsh on the film. After all, I almost gave a positive review to last year’s New Year’s Eve, a film I was prepared to hate so much. That one had charm, a sweetness about it that almost made me look past the fact that it had some gaping plot holes and clichés. What is it with people making these ensemble films? They aren’t box office successes like everyone thinks; Valentine’s Day was the high point, and ever since then films have continued to lose money. They cost so much because they hire an excessive amount of stars who do this type of film solely to get paid, and they look past the fact that the material is not good and unoriginal. So why do they think that audiences are willing to embrace such boring works? I’m still not quite sure why studio executives think these types of films work; they don’t.
Call it a poor complaint, but there’s no artistic merit here. There are moments when the film just jumps from point to point, delivering no plot or character development, and just addressing the clichés and stereotypes of people and their situations during pregnancy. Why do we need to make so many gas jokes, so many bladder jokes, so many fat jokes, etc.? The list goes on and on, yet it just proves that the filmmakers, both writers and actors, don’t want to bring this material any type of standard. They just want to give this to the audiences that somehow find these moments amusing, the ones we’ve all seen before. I heard some excessive laughing at my screening, particularly from audience members who sounded like new mothers. I just want to know: even if you can relate to this, why would you want to see a film that glazes over the key issues of pregnancy to give such broad ideas about what happens to women?
Chris Rock can almost always be seen as a savior for a comedy, yet his supporting role doesn’t do enough to distract from the unenjoyment I got from everything else. What To Expect When You’re Expecting, it pains me to say it, is one of the worst films of the year, a film I can’t admire in any way no matter how much I dissect it. There are some commendable actors here, but the material just makes it all so simplistic and unrealistic, even in its attempt to make it universal and “realistic.” This type of film frustrates me so much. It’s laziness on everyone’s part, and don’t be surprised when this film bombs at the theaters this upcoming weekend. It may seem like a film you can find enjoyment from, but it certainly didn’t work here, adding up to one of the more mind-numbing moviegoing experiences I’ve had all year.