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Expecting delivers a few unexpected laughs
Strong cast boosts formulaic comedy filmed in Atlanta
0517MARKER1
Matthew Morrison, left, and Cameron Diaz are shown in a scene from "What to Expect When You're Expecting." - photo by Melissa Moseley

‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Dennis Quaid, Jennifer Lopez

Rated: PG-13, for crude and sexual content, thematic elements and language

Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Bottom line: You get what you expect

At first glance, this seems to be the week when Hollywood hits bottom. The big releases are “Battleship,” based on a board game played with pegs, and “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” based on a pregnancy guide.

Need any more proof that Hollywood has run out of ideas? What’s next? “Roget’s Thesaurus, in 3D!”?

Yes, “What to Expect” seems to signify much that is wrong with contemporary Hollywood. But I’m not going to pronounce that judgement for two reasons.

First, the movie’s strategy has been common since the sign still said “Hollywoodland:” Base the movie on a property instantly recognized by everyone, cast so many stars no one will notice if the writing is bad and throw in copious scenes with irresistible kids.

We can’t claim this is the decline of Hollywood, when it is nothing new.

Second, the movie isn’t as bad as you might expect. Oh, it isn’t very good, either, but it will please its audience.

The movie is structured like “New Year’s Eve,” “Valentine’s Day” and other recent comedies that feature several theme-related storylines and star-studded casts. In this case, each storyline centers on a pregnant woman.

Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and Gary (Ben Falcone) have been trying for two years of their marriage to get pregnant and are thrilled when it finally happens. Wendy’s excitement slowly wanes, though, as she struggles with how hard it really is to grow and deliver a baby.

Banks anchors the entire movie, embodying the expectant everywoman enduring back pains, a bladder with a mind of its own and “backne.” (That’s acne on the back, in case I misspelled it.) Banks is incredibly relateable and funny in the role.

Falcone, who broke out in last year’s “Bridesmaids,” is also very funny as he grapples with life in the shadow of his uber-competitive father, Ramsey (Randy Quaid).

Ramsey is a retired NASCAR legend now married to young, trophy wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker). Ramsey and Skyler become pregnant at exactly the same time as Wendy and Gary. Dad once again upstages his son.

Decker, who only recently began acting, deserves some credit for being genuinely funny as a woman whose pregnancy goes sickeningly smoothly. She never gets gas and wears designer heels in her third trimester. Skyler is that pregnant woman whom other pregnant women hate, yet Decker makes it endearing.

Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), meanwhile, have tried in vitro fertilization and everything else yet still can’t conceive. They decide to adopt, but a series of financial and marital problems complicate matters.

Television fitness guru Jules (Cameron Diaz, channeling Jillian Michaels) gets pregnant thanks to an affair with her dancing partner Evan (Matthew Morrison) during filming of a “Dancing With the Stars”-type show. Jules must learn that even she can’t do everything by herself.

Also dealing with an unplanned pregnancy are Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chase Crawford), whose one-night stand turns into a commitment.

All of this has little to do with the book on which the movie is based, except that both book and movie try to capture typical pregnancy-related experiences.

Each story is underdeveloped, a flaw in all of these big-cast comedies. Individual episodes are funny but the film doesn’t hold together as a whole. It feels like an extended sitcom.

The Rosie and Marco story begins very strongly, promising some real drama which unfortunately never materializes. That’s perhaps the biggest shame of the movie.

“What to Expect” was filmed and is set in Atlanta, and plays like a tourism ad for the city. The Georgia Aquarium, Piedmont Park and numerous locations around Midtown get great screen time. The Black Lips make an appearance, and Atlanta actor J. Todd Smith has a speaking role. It’s great to see our capital city pictured so lovingly.

Thanks to a funny cast and occasionally clever writing, the movie is surprisingly funny and overdelivers on an awful premise.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.

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