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Entries in What to Expect When You're Expecting [2012] (1)

Sunday
May272012

What to Expect When You're Expecting (2012)

Driving Misandry

My best friend in art school told me a variation on the same joke for a year. It went like this:

"So, there's this guy who goes upstairs in his house. He sees his wife in the bathroom and says, 'Hey! What're you doing out of the kitchen?'"

The hilarity was never in the content, but the context--which changed daily: sometimes the "guy" would be Han Solo and the "girl" Chewbacca; other versions had ridiculously complicated and funny set-ups that were defused by the original punch line. It was our version of "The Aristocrats"* before we knew what "The Aristocrats" was.

I thought about this joke a lot while watching What to Expect When You're Expecting, a movie that tells the same sexist joke over and over again for nearly two hours--minus the interesting setups or satisfying ending. Like Valentine's Day, He's Just Not That Into You, and every other lame, celebrity-packed romantic comedy of the last half-decade that has tried and failed to be Love Actually, What to Expect is comprised of several interlocking relationship stories that share a common premise. Like the recent Think Like a Man, it's also a feature film based on a mega-popular self-help book. But that movie is actually good, and has no further place in this discussion.

In fairness, What to Expect is less a rom-com than a mom-com, a delectable, consequence-free slice of parenthood porn sponsored by Delta Airlines and whatever sinister, globalist forces want to ensure a cheap labor stream into the next millennium. I'm kidding about that second part,** but the film's heavy-handed, pro-conception message makes the alien propaganda from They Live seem positively benign.

I can feel some of you scratching your heads. Yes, I'm a family man, and can recommend parenthood to anyone who'll listen. But there's nothing in this movie that I recognized as having anything to do with my experiences, or those of my wife. All director Kirk Jones and writers Shauna Cross and Heather Hach have managed to do is wrangle big-name stars in a big-screen sitcom. All the women are fiercely independent; all the men are confused, over-grown boys; all the kids do the darnedest things.

I can tell how much you're enjoying me twist in the wind, fighting with everything in me to write about a movie that isn't worth any more time than I've already given it.

Here comes the "plot" breakdown:

Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford play rival food-truck operators whose one-night stand results in a pregnancy. She loses the baby, and they have to figure out if couple-hood is actually in the cards for them. I've never been embarrassed for Kendrick until now; really, I shouldn't be, 'cause I have no stake in her career one way or the other--but "scolding, careerist shrew" doesn't fit her, and it's a bad sign when the second male lead on Gossip Girl steals the spotlight from an Oscar nominee. But he did. XoXo, Chace!

Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro play an infertile couple who really want a family. She loses her photography job; he loses interest in fatherhood when the adoption agency announces that they've miraculously found a kid for them who's ready to be brought home right away. Santoro's character joins a gang of dads whose Saturday get-togethers at the park with their kids has become an excuse for them to bond over "guy shit", away from the judgmental harping of their spouses. No prizes will be awarded for guessing that the dad club is introduced in a slow-motion wide-shot set to rap music.

Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone play a perfectly happy couple. She runs a baby boutique; he's a celebrity dentist. She has the kid-making stuff down to a science, even going so far as to force her shlubby mate into a quickie when her cell phone's ovulation alarm rings. He's got daddy issues that blow up when his father, a retired NASCAR legend played by Dennis Quaid, announces that he and his much-younger wife (Brooklyn Decker) are also pregnant--with twins!

Last, and certainly least, we have Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison playing reality TV stars whose partnership on a dance show results in a "real life" pairing--as well as a baby. She's so obsessed with staying on top of the ratings game that she practically has to be restrained from flying home after a remote shoot during her third trimester. She also has no idea why the baby-daddy is so upset about her militant, anti-circumcision stance (mostly, his are religious grounds). 

Any one of these premises might have made for an interesting drama, or even a comedy, if targeted at adults. But What to Expect When You're Expecting isn't made for them. It's aimed squarely at the Girls Night Out crowd, which has many sub-categories but a singular, black, beating heart. There are the wish-fulfillment girls; the grannies whose memories of the past are just hazy enough to buy into the false emotions presented here; and, of course, the moms who've left the brood with their good-for-nothing, sports-obsessed, smelly, stupid, feelings-are-for-fags, sperm-donor husbands in order to partake in the extended, cineplex equivalent of George Orwell's Two Minutes Hate.

If you recognize anyone from your social circle in this movie, get new friends. If you see yourself and/or your spouse in these characters, consider murder/suicide. But for God's sake--and, more importantly, mine--do not have children. The last thing art needs is another generation of cliche-minded twits funding laugh-free, stakes-free comedies that squash legitimate entertainment under its clown shoes.

Note: Like the other movie I watched on Saturday, Men in Black 3, What to Expect has a great left-field performance buried deep within its roiling seas of mediocrity. Brooklyn Decker surprised the hell out of me in a scene that transformed her upbeat, Southern trophy wife into a no-nonsense mother hen. If this minute of greatness is any indication, Decker needs to stop headlining garbage like Battleship and make with the supporting dramatic roles right away.

*If you're unfamiliar with "The Aristocrats", check out Paul Provenza's wonderful 2005 documentary of the same name--or Google the phrase, but not at work.

**Not really.