|Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Cameron Diaz,
Brooklyn Decker, and Jennifer Lopez
Because there has been so much discussion in recent years about changing gender roles and about various methods of childbirth, I was surprised by how boringly conventional What To Expect When You’re Expecting actually was. The movie is about a few different families who are preparing for the arrival of a little stranger. Although each story has a different perspective on the experience of getting pregnant and having a baby, the scope is rather narrow.
One unmarried young couple accidentally get pregnant after a one-night stand. Another mother who has been trying for years to get pregnant discovers that “the glow” everyone talks about is merely a fantastical rumor – being pregnant sucks to the extreme! Then there’s her gorgeous step-mother-in-law who experiences the easiest pregnancy on record, and in high heeled shoes! Then there’s the couple torn by the fact that they are unable to have children for themselves. As they prepare to adopt a baby from Ethiopia, the husband starts gets cold feet and the wife unexpectedly loses her job. Then there’s the celebrity weight-loss trainer who struggles to juggle her career, her boyfriend, and an unexpected pregnancy.
One part of the previews that struck me as an interesting concept was the “dude’s group,” a group of dads who get together regularly to walk their kids through the park. My initial thoughts were, “Great! We’ll get to see dads being awesome, spending time with their children, and really investing in the upbringing of their babies!” Instead I got a group of idiots who lie to their wives, drop babies off changing tables, and are oblivious the toddler who just wandered off, fell down a flight of stone steps, and got hit on the head by an airborn beer can (thrown by one of the fathers). Rather than breaking down preconception about American fatherhood, they supported every negative stereotype in the books! But because Chris Rock can make a hreatwarming speech about how much he loves his family and loves being a dad, and would never go back to the old days, the whole patriarchal pessimism is mediated for the female audience that both doubts a man’s ability to be a good parent while simultaneously requiring them to participate.
The five baby stories are cliched and predictable at best. At worst, they encourage an outdated mode of thinking about pregnancy and birth. Documentaries like Abby Epstein’s The Business of Being Born (2008) and Pregnant in America (also 2008) have presented the American public with alternatives to the traditional flat-on-back-in-hospital birth scenario. But all four pregnancies in What To Expect When You’re Expecting ended in the hospital, with the mothers on all manner of medication. The atmosphere was pervaded by the dramatic tension of fear that we should be trying to convince new mothers DOES NOT have to consumer their experience! Pregnancy is not an illness, you’re life is not necessarily in danger, and the doctor is not the hero or enabler of the woman’s experience.
As a movie, the film was predictable and there was a decided lack of any original humor. They basically put the whole story into a Love Actually framework, which, incidentally, is becoming sickeningly overused (note the failures of both Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve). The film presents no novelty or innovation of any kind – it’s like any other move about pregnancy/childbirth you’ve seen since 1995 (with exception of Baby Mama, which actually contributed to an expanded way of thinking about women’s reproductive abilities and rights. Thank you Tina Faye and Amy Poehler!). If the What To Expect When You’re Expecting had been funny, I mean really funny, it might have been worth the trip the the theatre. But it wasn’t, so don’t.