Ah, the advice-book movie! The last 10 years have seen a trend of Hollywood piggybacking off the popularity of self-help books through similarly titled movies inspired by the problems that they address. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, He’s Just Not That Into You, and the current Think Like a Man are all comedies pitched at female audiences, and they tend to share a sententious attitude as a result of being adapted from books that claim to have the answers. I, on the other hand, have a question: Does anybody like these films? Some people love vampire flicks or stoner comedies or animated musicals. Do you know any fans of advice-book movies?
The latest example is What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which uses Heidi Murkoff’s similarly titled pregnancy guide as a jumping-off point for exploring the travails of various expectant couples in the city of Atlanta. Let’s start with what works here: Baby-store-owning couple Gary and Wendy (Ben Falcone and Elizabeth Banks) finally conceive after years of trying, which leads to a terrifically awkward scene when they break the joyful news to Gary’s retired NASCAR champion dad (Dennis Quaid) and his much-younger new wife (Brooklyn Decker), only to find that they’re pregnant as well. This kicks off two tensely funny plotlines in which the diffident Gary gets sucked back into his dad’s hypercompetitive orbit while Wendy struggles with all the indignities inflicted upon her body while watching her hot stepmother-in-law sail through what looks like the easiest pregnancy ever.
Director Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee) stuffs this movie with comics and gives them free rein to ad-lib, which yields good results with The Dudes (Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon, Rob Huebel, and Amir Talai), a pack of swaggering married dads who take their toddlers on Saturday walks through the park, bond over their domestic adventures, and carry themselves like badasses. The actors contribute much enjoyable banter, as does plus-sized Australian comic Rebel Wilson as Wendy’s Southern-fried employee. (“We have got to get these [pacifiers] for the store!” she says at a baby expo. “They taste just like actual nipples.”)
The comics steal a lot of scenes but only point out how unimaginative the rest of the movie is. The plot about a couple adopting because of fertility issues (Rodrigo Santoro and Jennifer Lopez) plays out with perfect predictability, as does the sadder one about a couple of rival food truck owners (Chace Crawford and Anna Kendrick). The story involving a celebrity fitness guru (Cameron Diaz) and a reality-show dancer (Matthew Morrison) whose pregnancy plays out in public holds some promise, but it’s squandered by the material. You can time it down to the second when the fitness guru’s first bout of morning sickness will hit during the movie’s opening sequence. What to Expect has its share of nifty wisecracks, but they can’t disguise the mediocrity on display here.