Using the formula so many unsuccessful romantic comedies have employed before it (looking at you Valentine's Day) What to Expect When You're Expecting wrangles a cast of big name stars but drops them in roles perfectly aligned with their sensibilities. Paired with a relatable central concept — one way or another we've all seen a side of pregnancy — director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) pulls off a comedy that's sweet poignant and most importantly funny. The experience of having a baby presented in the film isn't glorified or glamorized nor is it a one-person job resting on the women's shoulders making What to Expect a blockbuster comedy that delivers a little something for everyone.
Taking place primarily in Atlanta What to Expect bounces back and forth between a handful of couples with babies on the brain: Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and Gary (Ben Falcone) are desperately trying to get pregnant while Gary's NASCAR legend father Ramsey (Dennis Quaid) is (frustratingly) having no problem with his trophy wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker); Weight loss TV personality Jules (Cameron Diaz) takes home the top prize at a celeb dance-off at the same time she discovers she's carrying her dance partner Evan's (Matthew Morrison) child; Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) are finally ready to take the plunge into the world of adoption but the actual process turns out to be an uphill battle; and Rosie (Anna Kendrick) a food truck owner has a wild night out with her competition (and former flame) Marco (Chace Crawford) that puts them both in a difficult situation. If you guessed she's pregnant you'd be correct.
What to Expect's DNA is a closer to match Woody Allen's Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask than anything out of the generic rom-com playbook. The screenplay from Heather Hach and Shauna Crossm is sharp with even the silliest and most expected gags landing thanks to the comedic talents of Banks Diaz Kendrick and the wicked rapport of the "Dude's Group " sporting Chris Rock Thomas Lennon Rob Huebel Amir Talai and Joe Manganiello. Even Decker who outshines her costars in Battleship holds her own taking the bubbly blonde to a whole other level
The movie makes a bold move to mix the less shiny moments of pregnancy in with the broad comedy and the results are mixed. Rosie and Marco's struggle with their accidental pregnancy takes a dramatic turn that doesn't feel earned in the grand scheme of things. Kendrick handles it with grace but pregnancy in its darkest moments require breathing room and with so many stories to juggle What to Expect can't afford it. Jennifer Lopez is the movie's biggest weakness a thread that never digs deep (or illicit laughs) from the roller coaster ride of adoption. The couple's predicament forces J.Lo to stick mostly to pouting and is completely overshadowed by the movie's highlights.
Thankfully those highlights are plentiful. Whether Diaz is spoofing Biggest Loser with her satirical take on TV personalities Banks is having a meltdown during her keynote at a baby expo or Rock is delivering a profanity-laden soliloquy on why dads need to man up What to Expect keeps laughs coming. Hollywood rarely gives birth to a comedy that's both hilarious and honest. What to Expect hits both chords defying expectations.
What to Expect When You're Expecting, adapted from Heidi Murkoff's best-selling self-help book, isn't what one would expect. Looking at the trailer for the star-studded project, it's easy to assume the film is yet another A-list ensemble comedy, a style that's evolved into a maligned genre all its own. But moviegoers shouldn't necessarily associate What to Expect with films like He's Just Not That Into You, Valentine's Day, and New Year's Eve, all poorly reviewed projects that felt like money-making vehicles for boatloads of familiar faces. Instead, What to Expect separates itself from the lazy A-list genre movie, thanks to a sharp, relatable screenplay penned by Heather Hach (Freaky Friday) and Shauna Cross (Whip It), who aimed for a difficult balance of comedy and drama. Turns out, you can hit the bullseye just by telling the simple truth.
Hach admits that Hollywood comedies rarely achieve honesty — a fact that compelled her to dig deep while writing What to Expect. "That's why I think movies don't work. They don't resonate," Hach tells Hollywood.com. Although the romance-driven plots of similarly designed movies took place in the real world, they bordered on fantasy. What to Expect deals with the real, and required a different approach. "We knew the challenge here was making really relatable characters that felt grounded. And I think we succeeded."
The screenwriter certainly had source material. Hach initially pitched the book in the seventh month of her actual pregnancy and thought the idea of adapting the non-fiction classic was "genius." Hach says, "There's really no more human story that's filled with drama and comedy than having a baby."
Despite the success of self-help adaptation He's Just Not That Into You, Hach says there was never a push for her to emulate the style of the 2009 film and its many successors. "We all decided, the producers and Heidi Murkoff, the author … we wanted a Love Actually feeling with a lot of different characters." Hach says. "I think not having too many characters, five couples, you have time to feel the connection. Love Actually has a lot of truth in it. [Director] Richard Curtis is so good at that." The streamlining helps — instead of feeling like a cameo-filled romp, What to Expect has a honed-in focus that helps the film's flow.
During the screenwriting process, What to Expect was eventually handed off to Cross ("like a baton in a relay") who brought her own experiences to the table. "When I was pregnant I was looking at any movie with a subplot about pregnancy because I wanted something to relate to," Cross says. "Once I started working on [the movie], I was excited because there are so many people who have kids right now. It's nice to have, every 10 or 15 years or so, something related to pregnancy."
Cross admits that the world she was entering with What to Expect was dangerous territory with its own set of handicaps, citing the negative critical reaction to movies cast in similar a vein. But the style made sense to her: "You're aware of an audience when writing this movie," she says. "I like a good milestone movie that sums up an experience we're all going to go through. And the reason I like doing the ensemble thing is because the minute you have a kid, the minute you talk to friends, you realize everyone's experience is different. It's a universal thing of becoming a parent, but everyone's experience is different."
Both writers knew that for What to Expect to work as an honest movie that appealed to broad audiences, it couldn't simply be targeted at women. "When you're pregnant or when your partner's pregnant, you're both in it together," Hach says. "We knew we didn't want a chick flick that guys would roll their eyes at. We wanted to include that vantage point." Cross echoes the sentiment: "There was sort of a group of mahjong-playing grandmothers that were commenting on the film. And I was like, 'Can we have some dudes in the movie? Because men help create the babies and they're pretty involved.' So that was super fun for me. It was a big project for me, getting the guys in there. You can't make a baby without a guy."
Amazingly, the movie does succeed in mining universal (and hysterical) comedy from a subject matter that, on the surface, may appeal strictly to women. That's thanks to the connection between the written material and the solid cast — an ensemble Cross reveals wasn't necessarily the desirable one for some. "[Producer] David [Thwaites], [Director] Kirk [Jones] and everyone involved fought really really hard for the right people in the right parts," she says. "There was an easy version that could have happened, but it was definitely fought against." Mostly so the screenwriters could trade in star-driven stunt casting for lesser-known but beloved comedians like Thomas Lennon and Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids), actors who are known to help make films actually, you know, funny.
Cross continued to work closely with the script once the cast came on board, swapping pregnancy stories with the actors and tailoring the screenplay for each individual — not a common practice on most ensemble comedies. "Chris Rock is definitely a dad," Cross says. "He feels pretty strong about being a dad. He was almost an embarrassment of riches in how much he knew. Chris brings a lot of his own point of view. He and I both agreed that it was important that it wasn't like, 'This is horrible… ' It had to be how real parents talk. 'Today f**king sucks, but overall being a parent is kind of great.'" The screenwriter was also able to tweak Jennifer Lopez's role once she came on board. "There's something inherently relatable about her, how she can come across as a bit of an underdog. I like the irony that she's so beautiful — she's not someone you'd look at and think, 'This woman has a hard time making a kid.' So it's writing more to that." When it came to Elizabeth Banks and Wilson, Cross couldn't pen enough dialogue. "There's a great straight man thing that Rebel bounces off of Elizabeth and you keep feeding that machine."
Of course, there were interesting pregnancy stories Hach and Cross weren't able to squeeze into the movie. Hach's first draft of the screenplay included a homosexual couple looking to adopt that was later dropped in subsequent versions. When it was put in Cross' hands, the idea came back up, but was shuffled out for creative reasons: "By the time it got to me, it was the moment Modern Family was getting so huge and it felt like we were going to copy … like don't do what they're doing so well. They are so nailing it, let's not copycat it." Cross mentions there have already been talks of sequel ideas and that "[they] would definitely bring in a gay couple."
The hot-button issue of young pregnancy also surfaces in What to Expect, after Anna Kendrick's character Rosie finds herself impregnated after a casual encounter. The storyline takes its own turn for the dramatic (we won't spoil anything for you here), but don't expect What to Expect to tackle abortion — even though the screenwriters have a commitment to truth. "You kind of know who your audience is," Cross says. "Does an audience who's in the middle of experiencing pregnancy want to see a movie with abortion in it? It's tricky."
So tricky that audiences rarely see abortion on screens big or small, despite the fact that many — 22 percent of women who get pregnant, in fact — would relate. (Cross does see a recent episode of Girls as a missed opportunity: "They are on HBO, they'd have the support."). Cross also doesn't want to downplay the situation either: "As someone who has been accidentally pregnant, who didn't really plan on my pregnancy, I think there's a physical, biological thing that takes over, too," Cross says. "Kinda, 'Can I do this? Should I do this?' ... People definitely have abortions, but I don't know if this is the abortion movie. I'm so not judgmental and so pro-women getting to plan their families however they want and I'm offended by weird laws. I don't want to come across as blase seeming like every family should have a baby. It's almost like some people think that anyone who feels positive about having a kid is like some giant propaganda telling the world to have a baby. I don't feel like everyone should breed, but I do think this movie is about an experience 90 percent of those people will go through at some point."
It's these considerations and commitment to reality that make What to Expect a standout. The movie pulls back the curtain on a momentous occasion by revealing all the crazed, disturbing, wonderful events that are in store for those who find themselves prepping for a new baby. Those looking for a big genre twist may be jaded before they even get to the theater. "For some people it might be awful and cliched that they get babies at the end and the babies don't kill the parents because that would be a surprise ending," Cross jokes. "But I don't know if that's the movie I want to see when I'm pregnant. Zombie babies… different movie."
Cross may enter that territory with her next project, an adaptation of the black comedy parenting book Go the F**k to Sleep, but Hach sums up the intentions and revelations of What to Expect perfectly: "There are a lot of expectations that people have about [pregnancy]. 'Isn't it so wonderful, isn't it so glorious.' You don't know what to expect."
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Anna Kendrick on 'What to Expect,' the On-Set Midwife, and Breast Tenderness — EXCLUSIVE
Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon Play the Cool Dads in 'What to Expect' — EXCLUSIVE PIC
'What To Expect When You're Expecting' Releases Five New Character Posters
Kimmel Show Pulled Over Remarks
Even though late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel apologized for joking that Detroit Pistons fans would burn down the city if their basketball team beats the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Final, ABC's yanked Jimmy Kimmel Live Wednesday night, Reuters reports. "We made the decision that we felt was in the best interest of the show," ABC said in a terse statement. Network officials declined further comment, except to say that Kimmel returned to the airwaves as scheduled on Thursday. Issuing an apology on Wednesday, Kimmel said, "What I said about Pistons fans during halftime last night was a joke, nothing more. If I offended anyone I am sorry. Clearly over the past 10 years, we in L.A. have taken a commanding lead in post-game riots. If the Lakers win, I hope to overturn my own car," he quipped, referring to the riot in downtown Los Angeles four years ago following the Lakers' 2000 NBA championship. Detroit, too, has had a history of riotous celebrations following victories by its local sports teams, including the 1984 World Series victory by the Detroit Tigers.
Paris To Make Letterman Appearance
He finally got her. After months and months of asking, David Letterman finally got Paris Hilton to agree to come on his show, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Associated Press reports. Hilton is scheduled to make her first guest appearance Monday. The hotel heiress and star of Fox's reality show A Simple Life and its sequel A Simple Life 2: Road Trip was to appear on the late-night show last November, but scrapped all planned media appearances after the ubiquitous video showing Hilton and her then boyfriend Rick Salomon having sex hit the Internet. At the time, Hilton's spokesman said no slight to Letterman was intended; she just wanted to keep a lower profile.
Secrecy Continues in Jackson Case
The judge in Michael Jackson's child-molestation case drew a curtain of secrecy tighter around the allegations Thursday, continuing to seal not only grand jury materials but also the media's requests for release of unspecified evidence, AP reports. Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville expressed concern that "in the extraordinary, high-publicity environment of this proceeding, the integrity of the jury pool is threatened" by possible disclosure of evidence that may or may not be admissible at trial, AP reports. Attorneys representing media organizations including The Associated Press had recently petitioned the court to release names of co-conspirators as well as transcripts of the three-week grand jury hearings that led to Jackson's indictment.
Hip-Hop Mag Ordered To Pay Eminem's Legal Fees
U.S. District Judge Gerard Lynch ruled Wednesday that by publishing lyrics to two of rapper Eminem's early, racially charged songs, The Source had violated a December 2003 court ruling barring it from printing the full lyrics to the songs and ordered the hip-hop magazine to pay for the rapper's legal fees, Reuters reports. The Source said the songs, which Eminem wrote before achieving mainstream success, were racist and made the lyrics and recordings available on its Web site, prompting the rapper to file a copyright infringement suit. Lynch said the controversy surrounding Eminem, "his music, and his relation to black culture helps explain the bitterness surrounding what would otherwise be a straightforward copyright case." Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers, is white.
TV Viewers Uptight Prior To Jackson's Wardrobe Malfunction
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Thursday it was receiving tens of thousands of complaints about indecency on television and radio--months before Janet Jackson exposed her breast on the National Football League's Super Bowl championship game earlier this year. Reuters reports the FCC received 146,268 complaints about indecency or obscenity during the last three months of 2003, well before Jackson's Feb. 1 "wardrobe malfunction." After the incident, the agency said it received more than 500,000 e-mails alone, almost all complaining about it, while less than 1,000 urged the FCC not to take action against the singer.
Role Call: Elle Woods on B'Way
A writing team is set to bring the 2001 hit comedy Legally Blonde to life on the Broadway stage. Legally Blonde revolves around Elle Woods, Bel Air's favorite pink-clad blonde, who gets into Harvard Law School to win her ex-boyfriend only to discovers she has far more legal savvy than she ever imagined. The book of the upcoming musical will be written by screenwriter Heather Hach, with music and lyrics by the husband-and-wife team of Larry O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.
Every once in a while a little family pic comes out that is truly endearing. Disney's Freaky Friday a remake of the studio's 1976 classic starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster as a mother and daughter who switch bodies for a day is certainly one of them. This update of Mary Rodgers' novel however is fittingly contemporary: Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a busy psychiatrist as well as a published author and her teenage daughter Anna (Lindsay Lohan) is a guitarist in a garage band. Their mother/daughter relationship is an archetypal one; Tess tries to be supportive while setting boundaries for Anna who like most 15-year-olds is moody and rebellious. They don't see eye-to-eye especially when it comes to men. Anna thinks her mother a widow is marrying her boyfriend Ryan (Mark Harmon) way too soon after her father's death while Tess think Anna's crush Jake (Chad Michael Murray) is too old for her. During dinner at a Chinese restaurant on a Thursday evening the two eat fortune cookies that cause them to magically wake up the next morning inside the other's body. Until they can figure out how to switch back Tess and Anna decide to carry on with each other's daily routine and hope that no one will notice the change. This curse however turns out to be a blessing as Anna discovers the complexities of being a single working parent and Tess experiences high school in the 21st century.
Much of this film's appeal rests on its two stars Curtis and Lohan who do such a fantastic job in their respective roles as Tess and Anna. Their characters are well established before the switch and we get a peek inside each of their lives; at school Anna is unfairly targeted for detention while Tess juggles a relationship finances and an extremely busy career. But the show really begins when the switch is on and Curtis and Lohan get to flex their physical comedy muscles. Curtis (Halloween: Resurrection) for example must capture Anna's quirks and mannerisms and the seasoned actress successfully convinces us that a 15-year-old girl embodies her 41-year-old frame: she slouches a bit when she walks sits down ungracefully talks really fast and slams her bedroom door a lot. Of course like any teen Anna can't resist but give her mom a bit of an edge with a fresh choppy hairdo and trades in her dowdy business suits for a flirty Diane von Furstenberg dress. Lohan (The Parent Trap) meanwhile acts credibly like a middle-aged adult trapped in a pubescent body; she is confident articulate and as someone with a Ph.D is not afraid to show off her brain. But as the adult Tess is a little more respectful of her temporary stay in her daughter's body--she ties her long multicolored hair back to show off her "pretty face."
Director Mark S. Waters who made his directorial debut six years ago with House of Yes bounces back from his schlocky 2001 comedy Head Over Heels. Working from Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon's screenplay Waters manages to salvage the '70s movie's premise but strips away the dated elements (Tess has a career this time instead of being a housewife whose job is doing laundry); its newfound sensibility is what makes this movie so appealing. Both Tess and Anna are kind and sympathetic characters but in a modern world of cell phones and BlackBerries they are too preoccupied with their own lives to connect with one another which is why the switch is exactly what they need. But while much of the film chronicles the crazy adventures and experiences the two characters have in each other's bodies there are also some very moving moments as Tess and Anna realize that in order to change back into themselves they must each carry out a selfless act of love. The climax is a tearjerker but the sap is bearable because you care about the characters and actually want them to bond in that mother-daughter way. The film does wrap up in a cheery too-quick Hollywood ending but the great performances and endearing storyline make up for any of its shortcomings.