What To Expect When You’re Expecting review

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Review Luke Savage 25 May 2012 - 09:42

We're not the target audience for What To Expect When You're Expecting. We still went to see it, though...

What to Expect When You’re Expecting opens with a Cheryl Cole cameo.  Not the best of starts,  especially for a film with a poster that doesn’t do it many favours (‘Hey, let Hollywood tell you what it’s like to be an expectant parent!’). Or the most topical of references.  There’s a nagging sense that the joke of seeing Cole appear on an American judging panel wore off about six to nine months ago.  And even then it wouldn’t really have been that funny, would it?

Maybe I’m not the target audience for that joke.  And, on paper, I’m probably not the target audience for What To Expect When You’re Expecting.  I’m a man who loves Army of Darkness and Road House.  But, and I have absolutely no shame in writing this, I enjoyed the romantic comedy ensemble Valentine’s Day more than Cowboys & Aliens.  Although considering how dull the latter is, that’s one of the least controversial things I’ll ever write.

There’s a time and place for a good romantic ensemble.  And studio execs have realised their time is now and as often as Ashton Kutcher is available ever since they started making big sacks full of money.  Even the bad ones (like New Year’s Eve) clean up at the box office because they’ve got the formula nailed down – assemble attractive stars, have lots of interconnecting  stories, don’t use many swear words or realistic scenarios, and get Garry Marshall to direct it.  Although that last one isn’t a deal-breaker.  He just gets first dibs.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting could so easily have been another romantic comedy ensemble off that conveyor belt. It starts just like one, with a pastiche of a celebrity dancing show (which wasn’t even that funny when American Reunion did it a lot better), and a scatter shot approach to introducing the principle couples.  We have Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro (attractive and adopting), Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone (down to earth first-time parents who are slightly less attractive than the others), Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford (young and really attractive!), Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison (attractive, but with relationship difficulties).

Despite not being directed by Garry Marshall, What To Expect …falls into that ensemble trap of valuing really, really good looking actors above those with good comic timing.  Crawford looks great in a v-neck t-shirt, Santoro even better, but neither seem at ease trading verbal blows with their respective companion.  And the film has a similar struggle during its first thirty minutes – it looks really nice, but is rarely very funny.  One scene has a couple discuss circumcision options while someone nonchalantly peels a banana.  That’s about as good as it gets.

But then something happens.  What To Expect … the romantic comedy ensemble meets What To Expect … the Bridesmaids wannabe, and it sporadically comes to life.  Three of Bridesmaids' cast are in here, and, more importantly, so is some of that film's edginess. Not a massive amount, but just enough to make this a fascinating clash of the old and the new; it's like halfway through production someone realised they don't have to stick to formula on this one.  Not all the time.

So while What To Expect's main cast run through the usual comedic set-ups and melodramatic routines, the film's supporting cast (the ones you don't see on the poster) get to reap the benefits.  Falcone (Bridesmaids' Air Marshall Jon) walks away with it, followed closely by Rebel Wilson even though she's playing the exact same role she did in Bridesmaids: the ditzy, weird girl.  In a film where convention rules, their off-kilter, underplayed reactions stand head and shoulders above anything else.

Maybe that's a result of Brit director Kirk Jones in the director's chair.  He brings that British quality of things not having to be perfect and shiny all the time.  He can't fix everything – I Love You Man's Thomas Lennon and Rob Heubel ('urinal cakes!') are given material so thin even they can't do much with it, Chris Rock plays Chris Rock the stand-up comedian but without the jokes, and the film reverts to melodramatic type come the last act – but he does enough to make this much better than the poster suggests.  And good enough to survive a second Cheryl Cole appearance.  That's quite something.

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