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'What to Expect When You're Expecting' review

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Expect to fall into a diabetic coma while watching this new ensemble romantic comedy, which deals with the trials and tribulations of pregnancy through five different couples. It's a saccharine look at impending parenthood that, while a step ahead of the atrocious New Year's Eve, still feels like it's been cynically conceived by a Hollywood marketing brain trust.

What to Expect When You're Expecting, Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel's best-selling pregnancy guide, provides the title and, presumably, some form of brand-name recognition for Kirk Jones's movie. The sprawling, improbably-good-looking cast packs in anybody and everyone, from A-listers Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz to TV stars Chace Crawford and Matthew Morrison. Even dethroned X Factor judge Cheryl Cole appears as herself (as a US celebrity dance show judge, no less).

What to Expect When You're Expecting, Matthew Morrison, Cameron Diaz
It's moviemaking by committee, as What to Expect tries to cram in storyline and characters to tick off every conceivable demograph. Like reality TV? Don't worry, Diaz's Jules is a small-screen fitness guru competing on the aforementioned dance show. Fan of Twilight? Then look out for Anna Kendrick. But what if you're a guy? Well, there's the Chris Rock-led gang of henpecked dads who gather for a Fight Club-style 'dude's group'.

Add in a couple struggling to conceive (Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone), one looking to adopt (Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro) and embarrassing in-laws Dennis Quaid and Brooklyn Decker, and there's something for all. The trouble is, these characters are wafer-thin rom-com cliches who aren't particularly funny or interesting.

Banks's Wendy, who struggles with the physical and emotional demands of pregnancy, is the most fleshed-out personality in a film that mainly plays it broad for easy laughs. That is until things take a turn for the dark with Kendrick and Crawford's relationship. Presumably the intention is to add a bit of weight and drama, but this seriousness lands awkwardly in a movie that, up until that point, has been lightweight fluff. It's a desperate ploy to activate the tear ducts.

Hollywood romantic comedies notoriously conjure up weird and wonderful occupations for their protagonists. With its multiple vignettes, What to Expect ticks off surfing photographer, commercials-jingle music writer, food truck owner (x2), retired Formula 1 driver and owner of a pregnancy store called The Breast Choice. It's more fun to play rom-com bingo with the genre tropes than it is to watch the actual movie.

After the success of Bridesmaids, you'd have hoped that ambitions might have been raised for movies of this ilk. It's not the case here, because What to Expect is a shallow and sickly-sweet offering that's best avoided.

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