The romantic comedy (or ‘rom-com’) genre is one that usually garners a lot of negative reactions from critics, probably because it’s (arguably) the most formulaic film genre. The “rom-com” is intended to give filmgoers the reliable feel-good happy ending that the genre is famous for but the negative side of this is that there are never any surprises along the way, nor do the films ever take any risks. When they handle controversial material (recently, the trend has been out-of-relationship casual sex) they tend to tip-toe around the subject matter, so as not to upset any conservative viewers. Because of this, however, the movies often misrepresent their subject matter, getting further criticism. There have been exceptions to this (recently No Strings Attached and Love and Other Drugs), which have taken much more realistic approaches to their respective subject matters, which in turn made them more memorable. Other movies in the genre are remembered for their exceptional execution and acting (Notting Hill). However, the majority of “rom-coms” tend to fade away into obscurity, vanishing from the memory of the viewers within weeks. What to expect when you’re expecting sadly falls into the latter category.
What to expect when you’re expecting is one of those movies that views a certain aspect of life from different angles, using several different groups of people as the driving mechanism, much like Love Actually and New Year’s Eve. Like these movies, it also has a star-studded cast, with Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Quaid, Chase Crawford, Chris Rock and many other Hollywood names. In this movie, the focus is on 5 couples and their different experiences with pregnancy, from conception up to delivery. The first couple (played by Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone) have been trying over 2 years to get pregnant, but when they finally do, they seem to get struck by every single negative aspect of pregnancy. The second couple (Denis Quaid and Brooklyn Decker), of whom Quaid plays the father of Falcone’s character, have the exact opposite, falling pregnant without even trying and suffering no negative symptoms whatsoever, much to the agitation of Banks’ character. The third couple (Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro) are unable to have a baby and thus decide to adopt an Ethiopian child. The fourth couple (Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison) are both celebrities, brought together by a dancing show and fall pregnant after dating for 3 months, while the fifth couple (Chase Crawford and Anna Kendrick) get pregnant after a one-night fling. As you can see, it neatly encapsulates virtually every possible angle of pregnancy, lacking only a homosexual couple to complete the spectrum.
The problem with this movie, as well as in most movies that focus on such a broad range of characters, is that it often feels shallow. The movie deals with five couples instead of just one, thus the film’s runtime needed to be divided into five parts to accommodate each couple to complete their character arcs. It is because of this that nothing is ever expanded upon as well as a movie could have with just one or two couples to focus on. This is only exacerbated by the movie spending way too much time on the wrong subject matter. The film tries very hard to establish some running gags for some of the couples, but they feel ridiculously forced with the small amount of time allotted per couple. However, the film still forces in comic relief scenes which are usually very out-of-place or badly timed and it does this at the expense of some much-needed character development. The film never really shows how the couples feel for each other, it simply takes the “because we say so approach” of storytelling and, for a film that wants to be a “romantic movie”, this is a very bad move.
What sets a good romantic movie apart from a bad one is how believable and real the interaction between the two characters feel. A tell-tale sign of a bad romantic movie is when you cannot understand the attraction between the two characters and this is the case for “What to expect when you’re expecting”. To add to this, the movie also falls flat in the comedy department. Many good opportunities for laughs are missed entirely, with some amazing unintended setups which were never utilized, but the movie then forces several scenes and gags which are not funny at all. The movie does have one or two scenes which get a few laughs but most of them stem from Bank’s assistant, Janice (played by Rebel Wilson), but even these chuckles are centred around her being overweight. Finally, the movie also has “the guys’ walk” as proudly advertised, where all the fathers go on walks with their babies. The movie gets most of its jokes and gags from here, but they are generally not funny and feel incredibly forced, largely due to the short amount of time the movie can afford for these scenes. Furthermore, the movie also has some horrible pacing in terms of dramatic events, with some incredibly grim drama occurring right in the middle of two comedy scenes. The contrast is so bizarre that it makes the viewer feel somewhat uneasy.
Despite these flaws, the movie never sinks into the realms of the truly terribly. The acting is on par with the genre and the soundtrack is decent enough. Also, the movie does pull off the happy ending quite well, with a pleasing closing act. However, the movie offers nothing special, nothing extraordinary and is doomed to be forgotten in a couple of months.
Overall, “What to expect when you’re expecting” is a mediocre film. It excels at nothing, but it is not so horrible that you can laugh at how bad it is. It is a romantic comedy drama experience, which fails at the comedy, the drama and the romance, leaving the viewer with nothing but an experience. Not a terrible experience, but a bland one that could have been so much better if it had not spread itself so thin and had offered a more fluid pace. For those who have been/are pregnant (being male, I cannot relate), it may have some more meaning, but in general, do not expect much from this movie. If you are keen for a night at the movies and there is nothing else playing, give it a go. At the very least, the ending will make you smile at the thought of having children.