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.
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