Rating: ★★½☆☆

It might be a sign that the creative well has truly run dry now that Hollywood has begun adapting self-help books into feature films. Following the likes of He’s Just Not That Into You and the recent US release Think Like A Man, we have What to Expect When You’re Expecting, adapted from Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel’s tome about the travails of pregnancy. Though it is consistently, enthusiastically performed by its sizable ensemble cast, this is another dramedy that feels overstuffed and pointlessly formatted as an interlinking anthology of tales.

An opening scene, which depicts weight-loss guru Jules (Cameron Diaz) competing in a reality TV dance show, suggests a film keen to flaunt its self-awareness about pop culture’s tragic, vapid potential. That the film itself, with its maudlin soap opera storylines and focus on ho-hum, only vaguely cheeky humour, is itself a rote slice of the very same is both sad and ironic. Really, while this first scene suggests a film shot with a satirical eye, the most you’ll take away from it is how Cameron Diaz appears to be in better shape than most women half her age.

While nowhere near as insufferable as something like New Year’s Eve, this pic suffers similar problems of coherence and pointedness; the dramas of the five couples are cut-between with a complete lack of fuss, and only a cursory effort to draw any sort of meaningful parallel between them. The strongest comparison comes between confident, beautiful expectant mother Skyler (Brooklyn Decker), who takes pregnancy ridiculously in her stride, and her daughter-in-law – yes, you read that right – Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), who is not at all prepared for it.

There is nothing intolerable or overtly offensive here, and that’s sort of the problem; while it isn’t busy being emotionally resonant or funny, it just doesn’t feel alive in any way either, good or bad. Too many scenes feel mechanical and fresh off the assembly line, by no fault of the actors, who almost universally give good efforts, but due to a script which mangles out the same sort of overwrought scenarios you’d expect to find in an episode of Desperate Housewives, although without that show’s kooky sense of self-aware trashiness.

If there is any story strand which does engage the heart and mind, it is the accidental pregnancy of Rosie (Anna Kendrick) by Marco (Chace Crawford). Their chemistry is absolutely tangible from minute one, and though things often do not go well for them, they earn our sympathy as, compared to several of the other characters, they come off as rather grounded, likable people. Also of note is a collective of gormless fathers called “The Dudes”, headed by Vic (Chris Rock), who share a common bond of charming incompetence, which they collectively hide from their wives.

Probably more effective as a drama than a comedy, the film doesn’t invite too many laughs, opting for the easiest possible gags, as well as fairly watery “car-crash humour” and some base toilet humour. Again, though, the actors throw themselves into it with an admirably reckless abandon, especially Elizabeth Banks as the beleaguered, over-emotional preggo wife primed to explode. The hit-miss quotient of the gags certainly is not for the cast’s lack of trying.

It has a few sweet moments amid some of its saccharine ones – specifically when the various couples set eyes on their tots for the first time – but there’s just too much stodge here and not enough dramatic or comic heft to see it through. Other anthology films can learn from this one – that you need to furnish it with a strong cast rather than one chock with “names” – but it is also worth noting that without a worthy script, good thesping only accounts for so much. The cast gives it their all, but this tepid dramedy lacks fervour and originality.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting is out in cinemas now.

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This article was first posted on May 26, 2012