What to Expect When You're Expecting, a movie with an ensemble cast of celebrities depicting different versions of mommy-and-daddyhood, comes out in theaters Friday. It's being billed as "funny, touching, and romantic!" as well as "hilarious, smart, and heartfelt!" And, in fact, "the mother of all comedies!" So, this is a date movie, right? A bunch of attractive actresses, including Brooklyn Decker, Jennifer Lopez, and Cameron Diaz, as the moms-to-be. A bunch of attractive actors—Chace Crawford, Chris Rock, Dennis Quaid—as dads. There's something for everyone, man or woman, old or young(er). Something for the kids, too: Kids.
The twist that's not really a twist—it's right there in the title, all over the ad campaigns and in fact ripped from the pages of a pregnancy manual—is that this is a movie about having babies, start to finish, with all of the complications that may ensue. I won't spoil what happens, but suffice it to say that any generalized iteration of having a baby is done here. There's the woman with the "bad eggs" seeking to adopt and convince her husband to get on board (of course she's a baby photographer, too); the "high risk" (35-plus) woman impregnated somewhat by accident; the baby-obsessed woman who runs a store called "Breast Choice" and who's desperate to get pregnant to the extent that she hasn't had an alcoholic beverage in 2 years; the young woman with the completely accidental pregnancy from a one-night stand; the woman with the disgustingly perfect pregnancy.
These are all stereotypes, but that's fine: In the way in which this type of ensemble cast works, you don't really even need to get past J. Lo playing the mom who wants to adopt, or Cameron Diaz as the celebrity who gets pregnant via her TV dance partner. They're all just tropes, so it doesn't really matter who plays them; it might as well be big stars for better box office draw. Then there are the equally stereotypically drawn men: The husband with daddy issues who tends to overeat; the player who ends up with child; the alpha dad; the father who is only able to pronounce his son's name the way he wants to when he's not around his wife; the dad with so many kids one of them just kind of runs wild, the baby version of a drunk person in a bar, to occasionally hilarious effect.
We have complicated feelings about pregnancy and parenthood. That's why we freak out when we see things like Time's "Attachment Parenting" cover (well, that, and breasts). But being parents and having babies, those are a couple of life's big topics, following dating and marriage (also commoditized by Hollywood), so of course Hollywood would want to incorporate them into films, to make money with them. And why not? But how to do a pregnancy movie that unmarried, not pregnant, not even trying to get pregnant folks will go to, possibly on dates? Sure, a group of women might go to a movie about having babies, but the plot device of the "Dad Club," a group of guys who regularly walk the park with their kids and talk "home"—a character in these scenes is played by Chris Rock—seems a clear attempt to get men and women to see this film together, a mix of guy-humor and girl-humor but also mom and dad humor, as are the inevitable baby gags and fart jokes.
As with any film that studios hope will appeal to the date-night crowd, this movie features relationships, lots of 'em. The complications of those relationships are tied up, by and large, fairly handily by movie's end. There's sex. Love. A
car mini golf chase scene. Men being men and women being women, for comic effect, and sometimes just because those are the standards date movies cling to. (She is "ready" for a baby; he isn't; she's a control freak, he's more laid back, and so on and on.) But the movie veers from your date movie standard in which boy meets girl, boy loses or almost loses girl, and boy finds girl again in a passionate rekindling by the end. Instead, we get talk of the limits of female biology, squalling children, some pee-yourself ew-pregnancy-is-gross gags, and plenty of hospital room interiors. The boys mostly find the girls in the end, if not entirely so: But there's a third party addition to that romantic date-movie coupling. The kid.
Pregnancy and what comes from pregnancy (the kid) aren't a new topic for this kind of casual, Friday-night-out film, which doesn't make anyone think too terribly much and is supposed to comfortably amuse while working within some established, if occasionally out-moded, parameters. Knocked Up did it most famously, though that movie was more groundbreaking (and also, frankly, just better) in the hands of the cynical-yet-hopeful Judd Apatow and Company. In What to Expect we get a similar couple who have a fling that ends in a baby and decide to keep it, and try to stay together. But the Apatow movie was consistently real, relatively free from the typical clichés that come in such films, and irreverently funny. In contrast, What to Expect feels like, well, a baby book made into a movie with an ensemble cast; sort of a Short Cuts of pregnancy films, but way less Altman and more...uh... Kirk Jones.
But the pregnancy/baby/parenting rom-com is not a new breed. More recently, there was the Jon Hamm and Jennifer Westfeldt movie, Friends With Kids. There's The Switch, in which Jennifer Aniston's sperm donor is her best friend, and the Jennifer Lopez vehicle, The Back-Up Plan—Lopez gets artificially inseminated, THEN meets her man. Further back, recall the movie in which Jennifer Aniston gets pregnant and decides to raise her baby with her gay best friend, played by Paul Rudd? (Jennifer Aniston may be the queen of these plotlines; see Rachel on Friends). And if you delve back, way back, remember Look Who's Talking?, Father of the Bride 2, Parenthood, and, of course, John Hughes' 1988 Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern pairing, She's Having a Baby?
People turned out in droves for the sleeper hit Knocked Up, and probably will do the same for Apatow's upcoming movie This Is 40, a semi-sequel. It's hard to imagine that What to Expect will compare in terms of box office, but you never know: It's the only mainstream pregnancy date movie out there right now. Considering how many folks in this great nation will at some point copulate and propagate, maybe the persistence of the pregnancy date movie, the rom-com-with-baby-makes-three, is just a natural, and smart, market to be in. Hey, pregnant ladies (and their husbands) need movies, too, and something light and fairly innocuous like this one, well, it's just a bit of entertainment, if nothing you're going to think about for weeks afterward. As for the rest of us, be forewarned: This movie includes possibly discomfiting talk of fertility issues and the banal pleasures of parenthood. Choose your date accordingly.