For a film about a woman's desperation to have a child, Expecting is remarkably uninterested in sentiment or schmaltz. Instead, the film, which is the first from writer-director Jessie McCormack, takes a more realistic approach to the subject, and frames it through an unusual surrogacy agreement that attempts to make the best out of a disappointing situation. But that determinedly realistic approach could turn off some moviegoers, as Expecting showcases not only the funny, warm-hearted aspects of the story, but spends just as much time on its more unappealing elements.
Lizzie (Radha Mitchell) is desperate to be a mother, but despite several rounds of IVF, she is still unable to conceive a child with her husband (Jon Dore). Meanwhile, her wild-child best friend Andie (Michelle Monaghan) has become pregnant as the result of a one night stand, but can’t see herself raising a child. So, she does what any good best friend would do, and offers to have the baby and give it to Lizzie, who instantly agrees on the condition that Andie come live with her and Peter during the duration of the pregnancy. Peter is unhappy with this news – he doesn’t particularly care for his wife’s best friend – but he complicates things further when he insists that his brother Casey (Michael Weston), fresh out of rehab, move in as well so that Peter can keep an eye on him. And so, two become four, and nobody’s very happy about it.
The characters in Expecting are not easily likeable, which helps add an air of reality to what would otherwise be a very unrealistic situation. Andie in particular will be the most divisive amongst audiences, with her habit of making blunt, inappropriate jokes at the worst times. However, Monaghan does a wonderful job portraying the different layers to Andie, from her party girl persona, to her terror over being a mother, to her desire to keep from losing her friend, and her desperation to find someone who cares about her. Andie is often annoying, and many of her jokes are more rude than amusing, but Monaghan does a wonderful job of giving the character depth and realism in her quieter moments.
Similarly, Casey, who begins the film as cold and closed off, quickly becomes one of the most entertaining characters in the film. Much of his job is to bring some lightness to the film, which is a slightly unusual task for a character that's a drug addict, but Casey and Peter’s antagonistic relationship is one of the film’s most amusing elements, and the growing friendship between him and Andie is a pleasure to watch, as Weston’s chemistry with Monaghan is one of Expecting’s surprising strengths. The vast majority of the film’s laughs, however, come from Mimi Kennedy as Peter and Lizzie’s therapist, whose snarky judgment of her patients’ actions often articulates what the audience is thinking.
Lizzie is meant to be the more straight-laced, together friend, but between her penchant for cartwheels and her constant ukulele playing, she comes off as more of a stereotype of a “quirky” Los Angeles housewife. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that Lizzie and Peter are just as messed up as Casey and Peter, and are often more selfish and unlikable than their counterparts. Mitchell is unafraid of showcasing those aspects of Lizzie’s personality, but she doesn’t quite manage to get the audience to warm to her the way Monaghan does with Andie, and so never inspires the kind of sympathy that is needed to keep them invested in her journey. Dore, meanwhile, doesn’t have much to do, and so never quite manages to give Peter any real substance beyond being a henpecked husband and an uncharismatic real estate agent.
The core of the film is Lizzie and Andie’s friendship, and how it struggles against all of the drastic changes they are experiencing. However, the other major theme of Expecting is the realization that sometimes, the people who appear to be the screw-ups turn out to be more capable of handing the craziness of life than those who appear to have their lives together. Andie and Casey are, in the end, the more compelling characters because of their ability to grow and mature over the course of the film, whereas Lizzie and Peter are more static. They don’t seem to learn much, if anything, during the movie’s 87-minute runtime, which means their story isn’t as interesting or enjoyable to watch.
Although it’s often hard to enjoy spending time with these characters, that realism works well to keep the film true to life. People in the real world are often selfish, brash or unbearable, and by giving Lizzie, Andie, Peter, and Casey these characteristics, Expecting is able to ground its slightly absurd premise and also to make the film’s un-romantic resolution more satisfying. There's enough charm to keep things enjoyable, though, and McCormack's determination to keep the film realistic results in a refreshing take on a story of female friendship and baby-craziness.
There's a very simple trick to getting 25-year-old guys to enjoy your smart, sensitive, indie comedy about female friendship: have a very funny, borderline-explicit BJ scene in it. Okay, so that's not the only reason they should like a movie like Gus, but star Michelle Monaghan acknowledged that might be why some dudes who attended the SXSW premiere of her new film liked it. Then again, Monaghan got a kick out of the scene herself.
RELATED: SXSW 2013: Our 5 Films to See at the Fest
Monaghan plays Andie, a single, free-spirited woman who unexpectedly finds herself pregnant and offers to give the baby to her married best friend Lizzie (Radha Mitchell), who has struggled to start a family of her own. The scene in question finds Andie in an ill-advised hook-up with Lizzie's brother-in-law, Casey (Michael Weston). While she, well, fellates him, he tries to, well, guide her — much to her annoyance — so she gives him a piece of her mind. "When I read the script I was like, 'Please honey, we've all been there'," Monaghan said during a chat with Hollywood.com at SXSW. "I think it's just such a funny scene from a female perspective, and it's never been touched on before…so to speak. I just welcomed it."
The scene doesn't only go for a big laugh (though it got one with audiences here); it also turns the table on your typical sex scene, putting the guy in the vulnerable position and having her take control, something for which Monaghan praised her co-star. "Michael Weston is genius. His reaction to that scene, I thought, was much bolder than me actually having to go through the motions. He actually had to verbalize what he was going through. I think he did it in like one or two takes," Monaghan said, adding, "..because I'm that good. I'm sorry, I had to go there!"
It should be noted that at this point in the conversation, the room — which also included Mitchell and Gus' director Jessie McCormack — erupted with laughter at Monaghan's response. It's clear the women who worked together on screen bonded off screen, too. It was that very female-dominated set — in addition to the director, and the two leading ladies, Monaghan pointed out that the DP, editor, and producer were also women — that made the actress so happy to be part of the project.
RELATED: Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, and Ron Livingston Riff on 'Drinking Buddies' at SXSW
Monaghan, who has been paired on-screen as the significant other to the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Casey Affleck, and Robert Downey Jr., said she was thrilled to have a different kind of on-screen partnership for Gus. "It was so nice to have chemistry with another woman for a change," Monaghan said. "I'd never met Radha before but we hit it off like a house on fire."
She continued: "It was so amazing to be surrounded by all these talented and creative women. It just solidified the fact that I want to continue to work with more and more women. I just finished a film a couple of months ago with another female director and it was so great. It's just a different kind of approach, its not better, necessarily, or worse, just a different way to approach things through the storytelling or the way that you talk about the characters. It's nice to have that balance."
Monaghan said she's encouraged by the shift in Hollywood toward more strong female characters like Andie — "She's unlike any character I've ever played. She's incredibly loose and she's overtly comedic. So that was a real welcome for me." — and more movies about and for women. "I think that weird rumor or idea in Hollywood that people don't want to see female-driven movies couldn't be further from the truth. Women buy tickets to movies," Monaghan said. "I think one of the reasons Jessie really wanted to make [Gus] was because she was like, 'I can't remember the last time that I saw [a movie with] two female leads that was really exploring women's friendship.' I thought she explored it really, really honestly and beautifully."
RELATED: SXSW Review: 'Short Term 12' is a Small Movie with a Big Impact
The actress, who said she has no immediate plans to direct herself, added that she hopes films like Gus will inspire young, female filmmakers. "I think that's why it's important with film festivals like SXSW... for people in the audience to be part of these screenings and to see other young filmmakers, female filmmakers, at the screenings, in the audience, at the Q&As, and be encouraged by it. To see there's a reality out there that is in the zeitgeist, that it is something you can do: It is a possibility."
[Photo credit: Erica Parise]
Follow Aly on Twitter @AlySemigran
You Might Also Like:Topanga's Revealing Lingerie Shoot: Hello '90s! Stars Who Have Lost Roles For Being Too Hot (Celebuzz)
Super Bowl weekend saw a third first Down on the box office gridiron as Black Hawk Down topped the chart again with $11.5 million.
Despite Hollywood's annual run in with Super Bowl Sunday, ticket sales were basically flat with this weekend last year, which did not include the Super Bowl. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- did nearly $97 million, up a marginal 0.07 percent from last year's $96.9 million. Business was up about 5.3 percent from last year's Super Bowl weekend, which fell a week earlier (Jan. 26-28) and saw key films total $92.1 million.
Neither of this weekend's wide openings, Slackers and Birthday Girl, had anything to celebrate, but a team of holdovers held the box office line. Snow Dogs, A Walk To Remember, The Count Of Monte Cristo and A Beautiful Mind all scored well enough to wear Top Five uniforms.
THE TOP TEN
Revolution Studios and Jerry Bruckheimer Films' R rated drama Black Hawk Down scored a third first place victory in its sixth week of release via Columbia Pictures with a still muscular ESTIMATED $11.5 million (-32%) at 3,143 theaters (+42 theaters; $3,659 per theater). Its cume is approximately $75.5 million.
Directed by Ridley Scott, it stars Josh Hartnett.
"Number one three weeks in a row and now getting within striking distance of the $100 million mark," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"Everything continues to go quite well. A very respectable hold even accounting for an anticipated hit on Sunday by the Super Bowl. We're just looking to continued good openings around the world and looking forward to a continued good performance and, perhaps, some good news on Feb. 12 (in terms of Oscar nominations)."
Where is it heading? "I think a lot depends on whether we get in the Oscar nominations (list of) contenders," Blake replied. "If it just kept going as it's going you'd certainly anticipate something in the neighborhood of $115-125 million, but (it will help) if it continues to take on a little added life beyond the normal moviegoing issues.
"President Bush has now seen it at Camp David and Secretary of Defense (Donald) Rumsfeld has seen it and really complimented it. As I understand it, it was requested and is being sent to the troops in Afghanistan. So aside from the movie news, it's also (making mainstream news reports). Whenever that happens, it becomes a little hard to predict (where a film will get to). Maybe in strictly movie terms you'd say to yourself, $115-125 million. But it seems like a lot of other things are going on -- both in the normal movie range and, perhaps, outside of it."
Asked about the Super Bowl's effect on the box office, Blake explained, "We're predicting a 65 percent drop on Sunday. And that would be the high side of (what would be) normal. We're acknowledging that we certainly have a lot of male adults watching this movie who will be watching the Super Bowl. I think the normal range of drop for the Super Bowl is, at best, 50 percent off and we're anticipating a drop in the mid-60 percents.
"Given previous weeks, we'd be anticipating a drop 30 points better than that. So off a close to $6 million Saturday -- we were at $5.9 million, off only 26 percent on Saturday -- we're saying we're losing, perhaps, $1.7 million if it would have been a 35 percent drop on Sunday rather than a 65 percent drop. It could have been over $13 million (for the weekend)."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated family comedy Snow Dogs, held on to second place in its fourth week with a snappy ESTIMATED $9.9 million (-24%) at 2,454 theaters (+14 theaters; $4,021 per theater). Its cume is approximately $50.8 million, heading for $75 million or more.
Directed by Brian Levant, it stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and James Coburn.
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Spyglass Entertainment's PG-13 rated adventure The Count Of Monte Cristo rose two notches to third place in its second week with a still vigorous ESTIMATED $9.0 million (-21%) at 2,211 theaters (+204 theaters; $4,049 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23.6 million.
Directed by Kevin Reynolds, it stars Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce and Richard Harris.
Warner Bros. and Pandora's PG rated youth appeal drama A Walk To Remember fell one rung to fourth place in its second week with a slower ESTIMATED $8.79 million (-28%) at 2,420 theaters (+9 theaters; $3,632 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23.3 million.
Directed by Adam Shankman, it stars Shane West and Mandy Moore.
Universal, DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated Oscar contender drama A Beautiful Mind fell one rung in its seventh week to fifth place, still showing strength after winning four prime Golden Globes with an ESTIMATED $8.51 million (-26%) at 2,250 theaters (+13 theaters; $3,780 per theater). Its cume is approximately $104.6 million.
Directed by Ron Howard, the Brian Grazer production stars Russell Crowe, Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly.
"I think everything gets hurt from the Super Bowl," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "Particularly this year because of Sept. 11, I suspect that the half-time show will be very patriotic. The Super Bowl is one of the sports that adults tend to watch. It's not just men. It's men and women.
"It becomes an event. People like to get together. Whether women are watching or not, they're there. And the guys are watching. It's just an excuse to have a little bit of a party. And with the game at 6 o'clock on the East Coast, it's certainly going to affect how the (overall) business performs for the weekend. We've taken that into consideration in our estimates."
Even with the Super Bowl's impact, Mind is showing great box office legs. "The hold is tremendous," Rocco said. "We cracked $100 million this weekend and we're very excited. It's obvious that with the incredible vision of Brian Grazer and the talent of Ron Howard it's (going to) have a long life."
Sony's Screen Gems division launched Lakeshore Entertainment's PG-13 supernatural thriller The Mothman Prophecies held on to sixth place in its second week with a slower ESTIMATED $7.5 million (-33%) at 2,331 theaters
(theater count unchanged; $3,218 per theater). Its cume is approximately $21.4 million.
Mothman was reportedly made for $42 million by Lakeshore and picked up by Screen Gems for domestic release for about $15 million.
Directed by Mark Pellington, it stars Richard Gere and Laura Linney.
"There was good news for all of the releases (from) last week where basically nothing cracked the market this week so the market had a chance to digest movies that I think they were interested in seeing, including Mothman," Sony's Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "It certainly looks like Mothmanwill get to where we thought it would -- mid-$30 millions to $40 million, which makes it very profitable for us."
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated epic The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring rose one slot to seventh place in its seventh week with a still solid ESTIMATED $6.58 million (-16%) at 2,309 theaters (-394 theaters; $2,848 per theater). Its cume is approximately $267.1 million.
Directed by Peter Jackson, Rings' ensemble cast is led by Elijah Wood and Ian McKellen.
Asked where Rings is heading, New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning, "We really need (Oscar) nominations and a (best picture) win. With the nominations and a win, I think we get over $300 million. Without it, I don't think we make it."
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated drama I Am Sam, which was seventh last week, was technically eighth but virtually tied for seventh place in its sixth week with an okay ESTIMATED $6.54 million (-21%) at 1,303 theaters (+36 theaters; $5,017 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.5 million.
Sam's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend. Directed by Jessie Nelson, it stars Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer.
"That seems to be going nicely," New Line's Tuckerman said. "We're probably going to expand this week by maybe 100 screens and look for some good theaters that we didn't get on the first go-round. There's a lot of (Oscar) buzz on (Sean Penn) now.
"This is another one of those pictures that we have this year where every other review wasn't good, but the public seems to like the film. (With) Life As a House, the public overwhelmingly really loved it, (but) just didn't go. This one seems to be playing better, but it's the same thing. Once they see it, they love the movie."
As for the Super Bowl's impact, Tuckerman observed, "I think Lord will take a hit. I think Sam may do better because it skews female over 25. We're hoping we'll have really good matinees today and all those people who don't want to sit and watch the Super Bowl tonight -- (a group that) will obviously skew female -- will go to our movie."
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated parody of martial arts films Kung Pow: Enter the Fist held on to ninth place in its second week with a weak ESTIMATED $3.76 million (-46%) at 2,475 theaters (-3 theaters; $1,617 per theater). Its cume is approximately $12.0 million.
Written and directed by Steve Oedekerk, it stars Steve Oedekerk.
Sony's Screen Gems label's opening of its R rated youth comedy Slackers tied for tenth place with a dull ESTIMATED $3.0 million at 1,893 theaters ($1,585 per theater).
Directed by Dewey Nicks, it stars Devon Sawa.
"We have U.S. rights only," Sony's Jeff Blake explained Sunday morning, noting that the $3 million estimate does include ticket sales in Canada. "Alliance has it in Canada and will be reporting (the film's Canadian grosses). Tomorrow we'll be releasing separate figures.
"That was a $4 million acquisition (for Screen Gems). It was produced by Destination Films (and) was one of the pictures caught up with Destination's bankruptcy. We acquired this one at very low cost, so we won't get hurt. But, obviously, it's not the performance we would have liked."
Paramount and MTV Films' opening of the PG-13 rated youth appeal comedy Orange County, which was tenth last week, tied for tenth place in its fourth week with a quiet ESTIMATED $3.0 million (-32%) at 2,295 theaters (-92 theaters; $1,348 per theater). Its cume is approximately $37.9 million.
Directed by Jake Kasdan, it stars Colin Hanks and Jack Black.
Addressing the Super Bowl's effect on the marketplace, Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning, "It obviously impacts the male -- and young male, primarily -- audience.
"If you look at the way these pictures held up on Friday and Saturday this weekend, that's more a result of the fact that there wasn't any major competition that came in. You can say (the Super Bowl) hurt in one respect in the overall business. However, the product that's in the marketplace actually may benefit Friday and Saturday (from the lack of strong new competition) because everybody stays away from the dates."
This weekend also saw the arrival of Miramax's R rated thriller Birthday Girl with an unhappy ESTIMATED $2.5 million at 1,000 theaters ($2,500 per theater).
Directed by Jez Butterworth, it stars Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin.
CineTel Films' PG-13 rated drama A Rumor of Angels, released through MGM, arrived to a soft ESTIMATED $0.019 million at 7 theaters ($2,676 per theater).
Directed by Peter O'Fallon, it stars Vanessa Redgrave, Ray Liotta and Catherine McCormack.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend USA Films' R rated whodunit Gosford Park, a likely Oscar contender, continued to widen in its sixth week, still doing terrific business with an ESTIMATED $2.34 million (-15%) at 800 theaters (+44 theaters; $2,960 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19.3 million.
Directed by Robert Altman and starring an extensive ensemble cast, it was written by Julian Fellowes and produced by Altman, Bob Balaban and David Levy.
Universal's R rated fantasy thriller Brotherhood of the Wolf expanded in its third week to a still promising ESTIMATED $1.8 million (+12%) at 393 theaters (+101 theaters; $4,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $6.7 million.
Directed by Christopher Gans, it stars Samuel Le Bihan.
Miramax's R rated Oscar contender drama In the Bedroom widened in its 11th week with a still hopeful ESTIMATED $1.9 million (-2%) at 549 theaters (+64 theaters; $3,461 per theater. Its cume is approximately $17.1 million.
Directed by Todd Field, it stars Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl and Marisa Tomei.
Lions Gate Films' R rated drama Monster's Ball added theaters in its fifth week with a still promising ESTIMATED $0.33 million at 29 theaters (+12 theaters; $11,400 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.5 million.
Directed by Marc Foster, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Heath Ledger and Peter Boyle.
Miramax's R rated romantic comedy Italian For Beginners widened in its second week to an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.15 million at 14 theaters (+10 theaters; $10,714 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Lone Scherfig, it stars Anders Berthelsen.
Universal's R rated drama Mulholland Drive expanded in its 17th week with a calm ESTIMATED $0.098 million at 72 theaters (+14 theaters; $1,355 per theater). Its cume is approximately $6.6 million.
Written and directed by David Lynch, it stars Justin Theroux and Naomi Watts.
TriStar's PG-13 rated Japanese animated feature Metropolis added theaters in its second week with a colorful ESTIMATED $0.08 million (-6%) at 12 theaters (+3 theaters; $6,667 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.2 million.
"It's down only 6 percent," Sony's Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "There's interest in that picture and we'll keep rolling it out across the country."
Miramax's R rated drama The Son's Room widened in its second week with an okay ESTIMATED $0.42 million at 5 theaters (+4 theaters; $8,400 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.048 million.
Directed by Nanni Moretti, it stars Nanni Moretti and Laura Morante.
Universal's international division reported that Spy Game in its second weekend in Australia grossed $0.53 million on 194 screens, placing fourth after Behind Enemy Lines, Ocean's Eleven and The Lord of the Rings. Its 11 day cume Down Under is $2.1 million.
Universal, which has limited international rights on Spy Game, has also released it in Belgium and
Switzerland. Universal's international cume to date for the picture is $3.5 million. After 11 weeks of international release the film's overall international total is $53 million.
In the U.K., the British horror film Long Time Dead in its third week grossed $0.5 million on 176 screens. Its cume after 16 days is $2.4 million.
American Pie 2 ranked fourth in Mexico, where after 23 days its cume is now $4.5 million. The sequel passed the original American Pie's total gross in Mexico of $4.4 million this weekend.
In Argentina, Pie 2 was fifth in its fourth week with a weekend gross of $40,000 on 47 screens. Its 25 day cume is $0.55 million.
Pie 2 continued to show strength in Brazil where it is in its seventh week with a cume of $3.1 million. Its international cume now totals $137 million.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $96.96 million, up a marginal 0.07 percent from last year when they totaled $96.89 million.
Key films were down approximately 23.76 percent from the previous weekend of this year when they grossed $127.13 million.
Last year, Sony's second week of The Wedding Planner was first with $10.61 million at 2,785 theaters ($3,808 per theater); and Warner Bros.' opening week of Valentine was second with $10.02 million at 2,310 theaters ($4,340 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $20.6 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $21.4 million.