Five couples endure the highs and lows of pregnancy in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” a slight, glossy, star-topped comedy inspired by Heidi Murkoff’s bestselling advice book. Though the pic shares little but its title with Murkoff’s manual, it’s nothing if not topical. Just as the book became essential reading among moms-to-be, the movie, citing more pregnancy trends than an obstetrics convention, may become required viewing for expectant parents — a designation owing less to its quality than to a lack of competition.
First published in 1984, Murkoff’s book was born out of her desire to find helpful, peer-driven pregnancy information at a time when Dr. Spock had cornered the child-care market. Though some professionals deplored Murkoff’s experience-guided approach, the book remains a classic; four editions later, it’s spawned a host of related titles and copycats.
No surprise, then, that Hollywood finally came calling, especially after “He’s Just Not That Into You” made the successful leap from page to screen. “What to Expect” is the latest in slick packaging: Take a popular, high-concept title, weave together a limp tapestry from various loosely connected narrative strands, and embellish the project with a full roster of marketable stars (most of whom didn’t have to commit to a lengthy shooting schedule).
Penned by Shauna Cross and Heather Hatch, the pic makes much of the unexpected pregnancy. Celebrity fitness guru Jules (Cameron Diaz) is stunned to learn she and dancer b.f. Evan (Matthew Morrison) are pregnant. Likewise, food-truck manager Rosie (Anna Kendrick) is surprised that a one-night stand with her hunky rival, Marco (Chace Crawford), leaves her preggers. No one is more amazed than lactation specialist Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), who nearly threw in the towel after two years of trying with her husband, Gary (Ben Falcone). Always looking to overshadow his son, Gary’s dad, Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), announces at a family brunch that he and trophy wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker) are also expecting.
Photographer Holly (a surprisingly nuanced Jennifer Lopez) and husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) become parents through adoption. After discovering a baby is coming their way from Ethiopia, Holly is thrilled; Alex, terrified. That leads Alex to solicit the advice of a “dudes group,” a roving quartet of Baby Bjorn-outfitted, stroller-toting dads including Chris Rock and the ever-acerbic Tom Lennon. Though they warn Alex he may never have fun again, the guys also show a tender side to fatherhood. Thanks to Rock’s deft delivery, these scenes also generate the pic’s few big laughs.
Helmer Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”) does a solid job negotiating the material and managing the few tonal shifts when an occasional dark moment emerges, miscarriage and a perilous delivery among them. Editor Michael Berenbaum, too, deploys smart visual cues to keep the momentum going. Given what it might have been, it’s a bit of a shame that “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” isn’t much more than a light-hearted, star-studded infomercial for pregnancy — but perhaps that’s just what the OB ordered.