Heidi Murkoff's pregnancy tome has nearly doubled in length since its first edition came out in 1984, so it's no surprise this soft comedy inspired by the manual has a compendiumlike quality to it. Cut in the mold of "supergroup" movies – think Ken Kwapis' He's Just Not That Into You, also based on a work of nonfiction, or those Garry Marshall holiday-themed atrocities, Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve – What To Expect When You're Expecting crams a lot of famous people with limited screen time together to enact types – or, here, conditions – rather than full-blooded characters. The dramatic happenings have the feeling of ticked boxes – check multiple births, emergency C-section, infertility, miscarriage – with au courant topics like cord blood banking and the "breast is best" movement woven in to give this terribly staid film the whiff of hipness. It's like spritzing Febreze to cover that dirty diaper smell: If this film were truly meant to cover the gamut of the modern babymaking experience – and I think that was the intention – then why the hell is it portrayed as exclusive to heterosexual couples, all but two of whom are married?
Hopelessly old-fashioned then, but not the aggressively bad picture you might have anticipated. Director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) gets good work from his small battalion of entertainers, from the superfamous – Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock (winning as the pack leader of a daddy support system dubbed "Dudes' Group") – to the undersung, including Bridesmaids' Ben Falcone as a stress eater/future dad and model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker, who inflects a trophy-wife part with redneck, nouveau-riche zest. What To Expect is absent of any big laughs – this is a film built on tinier titters – but co-writers Heather Hach (Freaky Friday) and Austin native Shauna Cross (Whip It) persuasively retune the film in its third act – aka the big baby drop – from comedy to a more sincere and occasionally stirring dramatic pitch. Maybe it's just reflex: I can't watch that many characters simultaneously push without feeling like I, too, have been put through the ringer. If only the filmmakers had themselves pushed harder for a more incisive and more daring depiction of 21st century new parenthood.
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