Combining several bad romantic comedies into one doesn’t equal a good romantic comedy. Instead, it adds up to a romantic comedy that’s still bad, only longer and with more characters.
That logic is lost on the creators of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, a fluffy ensemble piece with a noteworthy cast that hardly offers the insight suggested in its verbose title.
By following five Atlanta couples, the film wants to be a diverse, all-encompassing examination of contemporary parenting, but it’s overly sanitized and insists on neatly tying up each of its stories at the end.
The most prominent segment doesn’t involve pregnancy, that of Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), who decide to adopt an African child before running into financial difficulties.
Jules (Cameron Diaz) is a reality-television star who must deal with being pregnant while famous. Rosie (Anna Kendrick) is a food-truck chef who becomes pregnant by an old boyfriend (Chace Crawford) who happens to operate a rival truck.
The other two couples are the most annoying, including Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), an author and boutique owner who has strong beliefs about motherhood. But Wendy’s husband (Ben Falcone) is not nearly as supportive of his father (Dennis Quaid), whose carefree lifestyle includes a younger wife (Brooklyn Decker) who’s also expecting.
While much of the focus is on the women, Chris Rock shows up as the leader of a group of new fathers who meet in the park to share their joys and sorrows.
Director Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee), working from a script that was inspired by Heidi Murkoff’s self-help book of the same name, keeps the emphasis on superficial platitudes and crowd-pleasing clichés, including the obligatory overload on cute baby close-ups. A handful of celebrity cameos also are in the mix.
The relationships and characters generally feel more manufactured than authentic, which means the average moviegoer won’t find much emotional connection, whether they are expecting or not.
There are a few amusing vignettes about the quirks of pregnancy that are exaggerated for comic effect, not permitting them to generate much poignancy as a result.
However, none of the intertwined stories is interesting enough to merit a feature of its own, which makes their combination an exercise in frustration and futility.
Rated PG-13, 109 minutes.