Sunday, May 27, 2012

At the Movies - What to Expect When You're Expecting

Romantic comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting lets it be known that giving birth is a serious business.  More in line with the shadow-tinged ensemble He's Just Not That into You than the frothier Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, What to Expect When You're Expecting stars a who's-who cast in a network of gently intertwined stories about impending parenthood.  It mixes the feel-good with the edgy for results that are relatably realistic.  Which isn't so unexpected a hybrid from a movie based on a pregnancy manual.

Of the movie's five mothers-to-be, three become accidentally pregnant, one is adopting, and one has been trying to have a baby for two years.  It is this last mom-in-the-making, Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), who centers the threads of the story and most strongly draws our sympathies.  As the owner of a baby boutique and a breast-feeding advocate ("Have a breast day!" she chirps when ending work calls), type-A Wendy has long nurtured the dream of starting a family with her kindly (and compatibly beta) dentist husband Gary (Ben Falcone).  With her wacky assistant Janice in tow (the scene-stealing Rebel Wilson, with whom we became first acquainted in last year's Bridesmaids), she goes to extremes to ensure the welfare of her baby while emerging as a goo goo ga ga guru, an effort she redoubles after learning that Gary's jerk of a celebrity racecar driver dad (Dennis Quaid) is having twins with his trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker).  Yet all of Wendy's resolve unravels during her keynote speech at a prestigious baby biz expo.  Clad in Janice's much-too-big rainbow unicorn-emblazoned tee shirt (she peed herself just before going on), she rages about hemorrhoids and crying jags, debunking the pregnancy-is-bliss myth that the expo, and everyone else, strives to perpetuate.  As someone who never imagined pregnancy to be pleasant, I found her diatribe to be candidly reassuring.  The scene marks the movie's stand-out comic moment, the absurdity of which is largely owed to Janice's well-meant but disastrous fumblings.

The other storylines, while less gripping, are amusing, and in some parts, sad.  The movie capitalizes on the increasingly popular reality TV spoof twofold in the character of Jules (Cameron Diaz), the winner of a "Dancing with the Stars"-type show (dance partner Matthew Morrison is her baby daddy) and a take-no-prisoners Jillian Michaels-esque weight loss show host.  Dueling food truck owners and near-high school sweethearts Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford) must negotiate the curveballs of their fledgling relationship, and baby photographer Holly (Jennifer Lopez) enlists the help of the "dad's group," a Saturday stroller-wielding posse headed by wise-cracking but wise Vic (Chris Rock) to convince her skittish husband (Rodrigo Santoro) that it's time to adopt.

The movie's end holds a few tense moments that may, if you're anything like the audience I watched with, have you uttering, "Huh?"  Nevertheless, the message of What to Expect When You're Expecting is ultimately life-affirming, cutting through all the muck of fear and indecision in the middle to deliver the knee-jerk optimism that always comes with the stork.

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