Sunday, May 20, 2012

What to Expect When You're Expecting

In no small way, What to Expect When You're Expecting is representative of many of things wrong with contemporary filmmaking.  Firstly, take a well-known property-- in this case Heidi Murkoff's incredibly successful volume of self-help books (a route sadly being pillaged by movie producers all over after the successes of 2009's He's Just Not That Into You and this spring's Think Like a Man)-- littering it with a glittery, starry ensemble, clumsily sewing messy side stories into an uneven whole, mix, bake and release without a care in the world of characters, story or tonal consistency.  It's a snap in the face for grown-up stories about grown-ups, or for those you believe filmmaking (even it's most facile forms) should contain a nugget of substance, or resemble something other than a shrill opportunity to cash in on a name brand.  While What to Expect seems to long to be the pregnancy tome for moviegoers, it's more a cynical marketing tool for the decline of originality in films for older, specifically female crowds, a sad thought a mere year after it appeared Bridesmaids had opened a few doors.  And while the characters end up bringing lives into the world, this is one of those films that may well wish most of its audience makes a swift choice in ending their own, if only to get away from the shrill, shrewish cartoons that make up this most unpleasant movie.

Directed by Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) and written by Shauna Cross (Whip It) and Heather Hach (Freaky Friday), What to Expect tells five different stories of differing lifestyles coping with the before and during of the blissful pregnancy thing.  Strewn together, with shapeless overlap, and filmed seemingly in a sense to accommodate the various schedules of the talent involved, What to Expect haphazardly, and lazily chronicles the ups and downs; most of the sickness is relegated to those in the movie theater.  The first sequence sums up the skin-deep and slightly sexist nature as we meet Jules (Cameron Diaz), a fitness guru with her one Biggest Loser-like reality show, you finds out about her impending condition while performing on a Dancing With the Stars rip-off with her hook-up\dance partner Evan (Matthew Morrison) by promptly throwing up after her victory.  There's quite a lot of that going on; scatological humor and cheap jokes seemingly made at the expense of expectant mothers instead of humorously displayed affection for soon-to-be mothers.  Jules and Evan's storyline is one of the limpest in the film, that passes the more substantiated storyline of an older woman giving birth, and instead chugs along as a pissing contest between two beautiful and successful mid-line celebrities trying to one-up and out type-A each other.  A proven point of the superficiality and ugliness of the movie as a whole.

There's but two small passing qualities that quietly transcend What to Expect from the trashiest of trash and instead just a bad idea, horribly processed from the start, and those belong to natural, easy-going performances of Jennifer Lopez and Elizabeth Banks.  Given characters more narratively fertile than the rest and a chance to breathe in a film that cares little for characters themselves, they represent two slices of realistic struggles on the road to parenthood.  Lopez plays Holly, a struggling photographer, who with husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) are seeking adoption due to failing reproductive tools of their own.  There's a small sliver of something going on, of which, the movie prevents from becoming actually genuine, of the nervous, queasy feelings and tensions of a family struggling to become emotionally ready.  Thankfully, and truly a disservice to the film, director Jones and team dart away before anything becomes real.  Lopez does do small justice to a sadly and tritely written monologue on the anguish expressed for her faulty equipment.  Banks, has the more challenging part, one that's likely very relatable to some, but also a bit more over-the-top as Wendy a soon-to-be mom, who has made a career in prepping for motherhood.  She's experiencing hell from all sides of her body, reveling in jealousy by the pain-free pregnant adventures of her trophy "mother-in-law" Skylar (Brooklyn Decker), expecting twins after marrying Wendy's husband Gary (Ben Falcone) obnoxious race-car driver dad Ramsey (Dennis Quaid.)  That Banks, a charming and very funny performer, can transcend such shrill and obnoxious material and rise above it is a small miracle in it of itself; the same unfortunately cannot be said of Quaid and Decker, whose plot line simply reeks-- Wendy has every reason to to hate the trophy wife-- she's seven months pregnant walking around in 6-inch heals for heavens sake.  The fifth and klutziest side story involves two rival food truck vendors, played by Chace Crawford and Anna Kendrick (possibly in a small way of seeking the Gossip Girl/Twilight crowd) who are forced to deal with the repercussions of a one night stand.

There's a shriller piece of seemingly focused group to death piece to What to Expect, when Holly enlists Alex to pal around with a pathetic group of Dad Dudes in hopes of preparing for impending fatherhood, perhaps in a marketable sense to reach out to the Apatow crowd.  It's in these embarrassing sections where whipped fathers, headed by Chris Rock and Reno 911's Thomas Lennon, What to Expect grows even more tiresome, lamely fashioning a all boys club of men who extol the depressing nature of parenthood, while secretly adoring it; for greater measure the Dudes in a stroke of bromantic glee all perk up at the sight of a single, muscle beach park dweller, played by Joe Manganiello, for little other reason than, I suppose, to rouse female interest at the sight of him without a shirt-- there's conflicting viewpoints in those shoddily executed scenes.  The points rises more so, I think, is this the place grown-up comedies are at now?  If so, Hollywood should take a cue from Lopez and Banks, who signify shades of pregnancy gracefully in tonally ungraceful appearances, only to be sidelined and sacked for disparate marketing devices thrown out in hopes of reaching audiences, who in all seriousness would likely never be caught dead in a film titled What to Expect When You're Expecting.  Popcorn is a cool, low-nutrient food choice, but adding unnecessary sugar on top is not only unhealthy, but bad for modern filmmaking in need of a diet.  D 

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