With more than 14 million copies in circulation, What To Expect When You’re Expecting has become the standard self-help text, helping (and terrifying) legions of first-time mothers with tips on the various stages of pregnancy, those early months of childhood development, and, in this big-screen iteration at least, what to do if they’re feeling morning sickness while appearing as a celebrity contestant on the Dancing With The Stars finale. (Answer to the last one: Stick the routine, throw up in the trophy.) As fascinating as a faithful adaptation might have been—imagine a transitional stool montage set to “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)”—the film is mostly an excuse to do a pregnancy-themed Love Actually, an overblown symphony of birthing stories that reaches its crescendo in the maternity ward. Or to use the appropriate parlance, it’s bloated, though the waves of nausea here come more in the third trimester than the first.
In a rare case of characters in a movie reading the book being adapted, five different women, ovulating in scripted harmony, have diverse experiences in the lead-up to having their first child. Cameron Diaz plays the Type-A host of a Biggest Loser-type TV show who risks complications by pushing herself too hard. Elizabeth Banks plays the owner of a baby store whose absurdly idealized birth plan, in an irony too obvious to pass up, gets swamped by a rough pregnancy. Meanwhile, her glamorous mother-in-law Brooklyn Decker, a cheery trophy wife to a former NASCAR champion (Dennis Quaid), carries twins without an ounce of discomfort. In other threads, freelance photographer Jennifer Lopez prods her reluctant husband (Rodrigo Santoro) into adopting a child in Ethiopia, and food-truck proprietor Anna Kendrick gets knocked up in a one-night-stand with a rival cook (Chace Crawford).
To be fair, What To Expect When You’re Expecting honors its source about as well as the movie version of the nonfiction polemic Fast Food Nation—characters and stories have to be invented, of course, but it touches on many different aspects of pregnancy and the range of experiences women can have. But for every time the film touches on some simple, relatable truth about the trials of bringing a child into the world, there are five or six outrageous comic setpieces that diminish it. That is, unless there’s a section about driving a golf cart into a swimming pool in later editions.