By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin May 18, 2012 at 3:17AM
I’m as susceptible as anyone to watching highly attractive people onscreen, which this movie has in abundance, but it took time for What to Expect When You’re Expecting to win me over. I found some of its multiple storylines annoying and hopelessly contrived, at first; it’s only toward the end, when the film draws from real life, that it finds its heart and becomes relatable for anyone who has been through pregnancy or parenthood. (The movie was “inspired by” Heidi Murkoff’s best-selling non-fiction book of the same name.)
Cameron Diaz plays a TV fitness guru who’s “over 35” and determined not to let pregnancy slow her down, in spite of the pleas of her boyfriend, the likable Matthew Morrison. Jennifer Lopez is a freelance photographer who can’t have children and convinces her husband (Rodrigo Santoro) to adopt a child, but impending fatherhood sends him into a state of panic. Maternity-shop owner and author Elizabeth Banks prepares to experience what she’s only written about second-hand until now, while her husband (Ben Falcone) feels undermined when his wealthy, highly competitive father (Dennis Quaid) announces that he and his trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker) are also expecting. And rival food-truck chefs Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford discover that even one night of lovemaking can result in unexpected pregnancy.
As counterpoint to all of this, Santoro is sent off to gain wisdom and experience from a daddy support group led by Chris Rock (and populated by such comedic figures as Tom Lennon and Rob Huebel).
If that sounds like a lot of characters and storylines to pack into one film, it is, and What to Expect might have benefited from streamlining, a concept that seems foreign to most comedy filmmakers these days. Director Kirk Jones has fared best when his films lean toward reality rather than cheap laughs (in such films as Waking Ned Devine and the underrated Everybody’s Fine).
Screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach have just enough good ideas, and persuasive enough actors, to put across their better material (Lopez and Kendrick being standouts here), leaving actors like Falcone and Quaid to mug through their patently artificial scenes.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting is a mixed bag, but if you like the cast, you may be forgiving of its weaknesses and allow its truer moments—the ones that matter most—to shape your overall opinion and leave you smiling. It’s hard not to be affected by scenes of women giving birth and experiencing the first moments of parenthood, no matter what has preceded them.