The thoroughly shitty What to Expect When You’re Expecting makes two movies look better than they deserve. First, Bridesmaids, because any welcome trendsetter inevitably yields a plague of opportunistic, unsightly copycats. (Just ask Pulp Fiction.) Second, and far less deserving, He’s Just Not That Into You, which at least offered a smattering of plots specific to its gimmicky self-help source. What to Expect, “based” on Heidi Murkoff’s and Sharon Mazel’s classic 1984 pregnancy guide, steals the title from its source and little else, exploiting a name brand to sell a lame ensemble comedy that’s more interested in warmed-over gross-out gags than plumbing the dark sides of childbirth.
Indeed, there’s a very dark movie lurking inside What to Expect, which features miscarriage, infertility and all manner of unpleasant and grotesque side effects brought on by pregnancy. But all those are depressing, and the filmmakers, rather than at least twist them into a dark comedy, go with a relentlessly sunny vibe, with potentially heavy crises solved via sitcom convenience. Don’t worry about whether J-Lo’s husband (Rodrigo Santoro) will overcome cold feet as they plan on adopting an Ethiopian orphan, or whether indie food-truck owner Anna Kendrick (deserving much better) will reunite with the Abercrombie rent-a-hunk (Chace Crawford) after their accidental fetus perishes.
There’s also Cameron Diaz as a preggers reality TV star struggling (not too much) to find common ground with her baby daddy (Matthew Morrison); Elizabeth Banks attempting to do something as her character suffers fetus farts; and Dennis Quaid as a dickish older dad-to-be. If the film were funny, none of this would be a problem, but—and despite throwing in a rather desperate amount of Bridesmaids ringers—it only hits its mark with a troupe of stroller-pushing dads, led by Chris Rock, who periodically swing by to casually discuss braving the ugly sides of fatherhood. In a film whose existence is owed to a movie that proved female-driven comedy can make Hangover money, it’s the men who upstage the women. Fantastic.