Woody Allen once took the nonfiction bestseller Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Was Afraid to Ask and turned it into a wildly popular and hilariously funny comedy that mocked human sexuality. Now, someone has taken the no-nonsense pregnancy guidebook What To Expect When You’re Expecting and tried to do the same thing. Mark my words: someday, someone will make a romantic comedy out of The Pidgin English Dictionary.
A children’s book author (Elizabeth Banks), a photographer (Jennifer Lopez), a food service worker (Anna Kendrick) and a reality TV celebrity (Cameron Diaz) find themselves pregnant and as out of their element and unprepared as the men in their lives. While the women make preparations for the next nine months, we discover that the men have a secret club, led by Chris Rock, where they stroll through the park together and share secrets of fatherhood. While the subplot about the “judgment-free dude’s club” gets the most laughs, it’s one of the many overly cartoonish sequences that clash with the more serious moments scattered throughout.
While thoroughly a comedy, it trivializes and romanticizes motherhood (one character talks about seeking a motherly “glow”) but also wants to comment on matters like unwanted pregnancy, miscarriages, adoption and unwelcome bodily functions with a straight face. While nowhere near as bad as the trailer would expect you to believe and slightly better than I expected, this is still a mild, passably diverting farce.
The format of multiple actors sharing the running time brings to mind the recent stink bomb Valentine’s Day. This is, mercifully, a better movie but shares the same problem of cramming too many actors into a single two-hour movie, having the editor frantically cut back and forth, not giving them enough time to fully develop their roles.
I kept forgetting that Diaz and Kendrick were in the movie but was surprised how strong Dennis Quaid, Brooklyn Decker, Banks and, playing her husband, Ben Falcone (who is excellent) are and wished the movie was only about them. Lopez is so likable and laid back, you’ll forget her status as a pop diva celebrity, and Rock has many of the film’s funniest lines.
It’s worth noting that the movie survives its dreadful opening scene, in which Diaz vomits into a trophy. It’s also worth mentioning that the film has a golf cart chase sequence, Banks farting and wetting herself in the same scene, lots of Delta Airlines product placements, and multiple birth sequences with actresses staring at the camera and screaming for laughs.
The dialog is sometimes very funny (Rock declares “our babysitter charges us for overtime… and steals our s–t!”) and sometimes awful (someone else declares “here come the va-jay-jays!”). Considering the material, Falcone and Banks give really impressive performances but everyone else deserves and has done much better before.
It’s frustrating to see how close the film gets to probing tough areas but then pulls back, relying on broad comedy and sentiment to soften some complex topics that arise. Similar to He’s Just Not That Into You, the overload of dueling tones, subplots and attractive actors just stack up into the equivalent of cinematic gridlock.
The movie works overtime to be trendy, with several scenes offering a recreation of banal reality TV shows, but only occasionally taps into the universal feelings of fear and joy in taking on parenthood and adult responsibility. It’s amusing and easy to take, the way an in-flight movie kills some time before vanishing from the mind hours later.
Rated PG 13/110 Min.