Week 32: Expecting the Worst

Here’s where I criticize a movie I haven’t seen. It’s called What to Expect When You’re Expecting; it stars Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Quaid, Brookyn Decker, and that guy from Glee; and after sitting through the smarmy, cliché-dripping trailer—twice—I wanted to punch every single one of them in the face…

Here’s where I criticize a movie I haven’t seen.

It’s called What to Expect When You’re Expecting; it stars Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Quaid, Brookyn Decker, and that guy from Glee; and after sitting through the smarmy, cliché-dripping trailer—twice—I wanted to punch every single one of them in the face. Except for Chris Rock. I want to sit him down and ask: Why? Why would you, a clear-eyed skeptic who once said “America is the only place where people go hunting on a full stomach,” agree to appear in this steaming pile of excrement? Then, after listening to his response, I want to punch him in the face.

I read the book. We all did. I’m fully aware it doesn’t have a plot—unless you’d call systematically scaring the hell out of parents a plot. I’m perfectly OK with Hollywood’s attempt to cash in on it, a move that Variety describes as, “the latest in slick packaging: Take a popular, high-concept title, weave together a limp tapestry from various loosely connected narrative strands, and embellish the project with a full roster of marketable stars (most of whom didn’t have to commit to a lengthy shooting schedule).” What rubs me the wrong way is the way the trailer manages to gleefully reinforce every single negative pregnancy/child-rearing stereotype into one glossy package for people who don’t know any better. Watch this, then report back to me.

Mouth-foaming women slapping husbands while demanding an epidural? Check.

Emasculated Baby Bjorn-clad men lamenting fatherhood as a place “where happiness goes to die”? Check.

Mischievous urchin smacking nervous father-to-be with plastic toy to illustrate frustration of child rearing? Got it.

This stuff is classic Hollywood shorthand for the entry into parenthood, right down to the clueless dads exchanging all the pithy ways in which they are clueless (“I picked up the wrong baby from day care…I found my baby swimming in the toilet…” et cetera.), to the strains of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” Run D.M.C. version, of course.

Whether or not these things happen in real life is beside the point. They do. Pregnant women get angry from time to time, and fathers do blow it—I’ve chronicled my share of both in this blog—but they are not the only things that happen. I suppose the cartoonish situations make for better cinema than the complex emotions that accompany pregnancy. But Sarah and I are probably supposed to be demographic here, and I’ll bet our entire checking account that when What to Expect When You’re Expecting does attempt to tackle real issues, as pregnancy movies always pretend to do, that its attempts at insight are as shallow as a kiddie pool.

Nine Months. She’s Having a Baby. Father of the Bride II. For Keeps. The actors and directors involved in these preg-flicks would freely admit that it was some of the hackiest hackwork of their careers. Even Knocked Up, as honest a pregnancy movie as Juno was phony, fell back on the usual pigeonholing of men and women. Otherwise, I’d say the best of the genre are Baby Mama, because it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than silly fun (Amy Poehler: “I’m sorry I farted into your purse”), and Away We Go, because Dave Eggers’s screenplay focuses more on moments of wide-eyed discovery than on the nitty-gritty of pregnancy. But in general, movies about pregnancy are like bad landscape paintings: They may get some details right, but only in a surface way, and you don’t have any desire to look at them twice.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting came out today, and I probably ought to mention that the reviews are not bad. The Trib, much to my horror, actually called it “moving and amusing.” And Roger Ebert proclaimed it “a good-hearted movie with some winning performances.” For some reason, I want it to be as repulsive in reality as it is in my mind, if only so I can hate it with no remorse.

So maybe my problem is not with the movie itself so much as the way the trailer packages it for mass consumption, which is a whole other can of worms. The least of which is that, now, I’m probably going to have to go see the movie.

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