What to expect from Kirk Jones’s episodic comedy?
Dramatic contrivances, gooey sentiment and occasional zinging one-liners sum up this lightweight ensemble piece about five loosely connected couples, who are feeling the strain of impending parenthood.
Set in and around Atlanta and inspired by Heidi Murkoff’s best-selling book, What To Expect When You’re Expecting shoehorns a menagerie of underwritten characters into 109 predictable and undemanding minutes, replete with tears, tantrums and an amusingly accident-prone tyke called Jackson, who seems destined for A&E.
Jones follows the flimsy template of Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, festooning the screen with good-looking stars, who have to conjure emotion and laughs out of thin air where none exist in the scatter-shot script.
Some actors fare better than others.
Anna Kendrick fleshes out her nondescript singleton so we can root for her spunky fast food vendor when heartbreak comes a-knocking and Rebel Wilson is a hoot as a ditzy shop assistant, who sweetly asks her boss, “Can I go on my 15-minute Facebook break?”
Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez are little more than window dressing though.
The script demonstrates a clumsy touch with thorny subject matter, like a debate between two parents about the pros and cons of child circumcision, which is conducted while he nibbles a ring donut and she devours a banana. Subtle.
Among the terrified throng of expectant parents are keep fit guru Jules (Diaz) and her dancer beau Evan (Matthew Morrison), whose tempestuous romance sparks to life in a TV studio, and cash-strapped photographer Holly (Lopez) and her baby-shy husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), who are waiting for news about their adoption application.
Elsewhere in the city, Rosie (Kendrick) avoids old flame Marco (Chace Crawford) after a carefree night of lust has dramatic consequences.
And baby shop owner Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and her insecure husband Gary (Ben Falcone) are delighted to start a brood but their excitement is tempered by Gary’s ultra-competitive father Ramsey (Dennis Quaid) and his trophy wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker), who announce they are having twins at exactly the same time.
What To Expect When You’re Expecting has neither the running time nor the inclination to explore storylines in great depth.
The script peddles greetings card platitudes and needlessly introduces a quartet of exhausted fathers called The Dudes (Chris Rock, Rob Huebel, Thomas Lennon, Amir Talai) who instruct Alex to never cross the rubicon to parenthood.
“This is the side where happiness dies!” they counsel.
Cheryl Cole cameos with fabulous coiffure as herself, sitting on the judging panel of a Strictly Come Dancing clone called Celebrity Dance Factor.
“It was a national disaster!” she tells one wrong-footed participant in her warm Geordie tones.
Jones’s film certainly is that bad but the delivery is far from smooth.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: NO VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10
Released: May 25 (UK & Ireland), 109 mins