What to Expect falls short of expectations

Valentine’s Day, He’s Just Not That Into You and New Year’s Eve have marked a new age in Hollywood filmmaking. Film directors are no longer relying on one protagonist: Stringing together the vignettes of various story lines that share a central theme is the new way to go.

The most recent addition to this ever-expanding group is What To Expect When You’re Expecting.

Daddy Day Care · Chris Rock, Rob Huebel, and Rodrigo Santoro star as men adjusting to fatherhood and dealing with their hormonal wives in the latest ensemble company to hit movie theatres. - Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate Publicity

Loosely based on the eponymous pregnancy guide, What to Expect When You’re Expecting follows five couples during their tumultuous journey of becoming parents. Director Kirk Jones wisely chooses not to closely reproduce the chapters of the best-seller; instead Jones chronicles the stages of pregnancy, adoption and miscarriage.

Jones should be commended for introducing the different routes someone can take into parenthood, but the various plot points steal characters of their would-be depth. The shallow tendencies of the movie can be seen in the pregnancy shared between food truck rivals Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford).

Though a small portion of the film is devoted to Rosie’s struggle as she comes to terms with an unimaginable loss, there is only one moment of genuine heartbreak afforded to her. Rosie briefly verbalizes the trauma she endures, but the emotions she expresses only scratches the surface because of the limited time her story is given.

The downplay of greater issues extends into the marriage of Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) who are preparing their lives for the adoption of a baby. Rather than delving into the subject, the deeper problems are quickly forgotten because of an abrupt transition into the next couple.

This supplements Jones’ unrealistic portrayal of adoption in general by allowing Holly and Alex to receive their baby in a matter of weeks, when they — and most adoptive parents — are initially told it would take at least a year.

Though filmmakers could have really developed and fleshed out the challenging topics, they instead reiterate the cliched gender roles of irresponsible dads and controlling moms found in previous romantic comedies.

Vic (Chris Rock) hosts a “dude’s group” in the park every Saturday that allows other dads to escape their hormonal wives and air their fatherhood grievances while they blatantly ignore their children. As the men push strollers, they knock down Vic’s toddler by throwing beer cans and joke about their kids playing in the dryer.

This misplaced humor and unoriginal perspective leaves the pregnant mothers of the film to make their mark by vomiting at inopportune times or throwing unwarranted temper tantrums.

What to Expect’s superficial perspective of parenthood corresponds to the caliber of actors in the movie. None of the five couples convincingly navigate their relationships, and the biggest culprits are Jules (Cameron Diaz) and Evan (Matthew Morrison). Their scenes are filled with lackluster arguments and insufficient chemistry, illustrating their incompatibility as characters and actors.

Surprisingly — in a cast featuring Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick and seasoned actor Dennis Quaid — Ben Falcone becomes the star of the movie. Falcone recently acted as the forgettable air marshal in Bridesmaids, but here transforms into Gary, an endearing father-to-be.

While his wife Wendy undergoes complications during her delivery, Gary waits paralyzed by fear. His vulnerability as he awaits news about his wife makes him a captivating character and reveals the emotional depth the movie consistently fails to fulfill.

In the end, What to Expect When You’re Expecting has exactly what one would expect from a romantic comedy: mediocre acting with a predictable plot. Jones sets the stage for the movie to surpass those standards, but he limits complex topics to small talk because of the film’s constantly changing focus.