Most Hollywood films are made for profit, not artistic reasons, but rarely do they make their financial motives as transparent as Kirk Jones’ “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” does. The film’s desire to win ticket-buyers, rather than admirers is evident in every element of its existence, right down to the title — which, taking after the mega-hit “He’s Just Not that Into You,” was licensed from a popular non-fiction work not because the book had anything to do with the film’s story, but because it made good advertising sense.
Clearly, the ad campaign was envisioned before the script was drafted — Why else would screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach overstuff the film with characters other than to allow for a greater number of billable stars? Every role in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is a cookie-cutter caricature — the predictable result of no one individual being allotted more than 15 minutes of screen-time. But they were able to fit Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Matthew Morrison, Dennis Quaid, Chance Crawford, and Brooklyn Decker all onto the billboard — and to not include them would have meant a potential loss in revenue.
In fact, when you realize just how many talented stars were wasted in the making of this painfully stale dud, it gets really depressing. This is not an instance in which the cast could have mistaken the project for something interesting, only to witness that something ruined during production. There is not a single original conflict in the script. Five expectant mothers’ lives are chronicled, and each offers as typical a nine-month journey as you could ever expect. This means that at least seven capable stars actively decided to take a fatty paycheck over a more artistically adventurous endeavor (I’m excluding Decker and Crawford, who may or may not be capable), which is as strong an indication that Hollywood is in free-fall as exists.
Rather than reach for anything remotely compelling, the film is made up of one trivial attempt to make the target audience–middle-aged mothers–feel like they can relate to the cast. Diaz is a “Biggest Loser”-esque trainer who gets knocked up by her partner on “Dancing with the Stars” (“hey, I watch those shows!”). Lopez is the recession’s latest victim when she loses her job (“hey, I know people who have lost their jobs!”). Banks feels sweaty and hormonal (“hey, I felt sweaty and hormonal during pregnancy!”) Get the drift? The problem is, while the viewer may feel that they have things in common with the characters, they still won’t be able to sympathize for them because the characters don’t feel human, due to both limited script development and walkthrough performances. Most of the time, this makes for a movie that is mind-numbingly boring, but in the case of Anna Kendrick’s thread, which is designed to make a small but significant fraction of viewers say “hey, I miscarried, too!”, it becomes offensive.
Released on the heels of a news story that whites account for less than 50% of new births, the film’s lack of diversity stands another misstep. It’s ironic that Lena Dunham’s HBO show “Girls,” which speaks to universal human truths through a narrow demographic, is publicly derided for its lack of multi-racial characters, yet this generic movie, which could have far more easily been diversified, gets a free pass for containing two “token coloreds” (Lopez and Rock). Once again, the fact that “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” was made as a purely profit-driven commodity shines through, as to include more minority characters would have meant potentially alienating WASP viewers — the group with the most disposable income to waste at the multiplex. How refreshing that audiences ultimately gave Hollywood a dose of its own medicine in ignoring the film–opening weekend box office was a paltry $10.5 million–and sending a message that what we really want are good movies, not ones engineered to appeal to us.