Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Chace Crawford
Running time: 110 mins
Release: May 25th
It’s fairly safe to suppose that most of the children born in the western world grow up in circumstances other than those of Hollywood’s typical nuclear family. Over half of first-time parents are unmarried; two-thirds of unmarried parents are under 30. And the vast majority of the children born to this latter group come into the world in circumstances frequently described with euphemisms like ‘unstable’ and ‘insecure.’ Around reproduction, debates about social morality are at their most heated; and that’s before anyone mentions stuff like abortion or same-sex adoption. With this in mind, What to Expect When You’re Expecting quickly starts to look less like blockbuster escapism and more like glossy propaganda. The repercussions of this point of view are right-wing in the worst way; Holly (Jennifer Lopez), one-half of the only non-white couple in What to Expect…‘s central quintet, shows the film’s hand when she bemoans of her faulty ovaries “It’s the one thing a woman is supposed to do.”
This is vile, but there’s worse. What to Expect… depends on two devices to get its message across. There’s the multiple storylines trick from Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Day, obviously seen as a nice low-effort way to pop out blockbusters. A few formless half-plots are made somewhat dynamic by simple virtue of their mixing; since we follow five couples for the whole nine months, there isn’t much pressure on a single character or relationship to develop. Four out of the five couples represent a level of married normalcy that’s pretty unrealistic, and all are assisted by an unlimited supply of those fat wads of notes that seem, in Hollywood, to be a mere fumble in one’s rear pants pocket away.
In spreading its extra-normative message, there’s no room for subtlety; this film is less cooing infants in the cabbage patch, more Saturn munching on his kids’ bones. Thus What to Expect… leans too on a well-known aspect of the ‘pregnancy bible’ on which it is based. The book’s focus on the symptoms of pregnancy offers much potential for gross-out comedy, particularly when it comes to Elizabeth Banks’ character, Wendy. She’s a baby expert unprepared for stuff like haemorrhoids or incontinence. In this, the film demonstrates a grim fascination with feminine health that’s abroad in the media these days; Banks has been the butt of more than a few period jokes as 30 Rock‘s Avery Jessup, and see too, the heinous media coverage of Jessica Simpson’s own third trimester.
“Pregnancy sucks,” moans Wendy near the end of the film, but it’s a necessary nuisance so long as it puts you in proximity to the middle-class ideal. What era are we in, and who makes this stuff? As Kevin Myers, in a lamentably similar context, said: Bastards!