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."
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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
The supporting men in the hit comedy show Modern Family have certainly swept the Emmy nominations over the last few years, and rightly so. The new age comedy made leaps and bounds in demonstrating that you don’t need the Leave It To Beaver type household in order to be part of a loving family. Normal is boring anyways. But let’s not forget the other talented comedic actors who've been around since before Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Ty Burrell, and Ed O’Neill’s characters were a mere glimmer in Christopher Lloyd’s eye. Alan Harper has been Two and a Half Men’s nerdy, single dad since 2003 and while Charlie Sheen is usually awarded most of the credit for the long-running show’s success, I believe that it’s time the Emmys paid tribute yet again to comedic underdog: Jon Cryer.
Charlie is easy to focus on because of his charm, good looks, and sarcastic wit, but the show would be one full man short without his pathetic, divorced brother. In a time where failed marriages are at an all-time high, the single dads of the world need someone like Alan to look to and think, “Man…at least I’m not that guy.” Alan has all of the responsibilities of being a married man without any of the sex. He allows his ex-wife to completely boss him around and dominate his life, but it’s a crucial aspect to the story. As the plot and storyline progressed, Cryer brilliantly portrayed a struggling father, trying to take hold of his new, single life. There were mistakes, fights, even a second failed marriage, but through it all he remains kind at heart and is always first and foremost, a father.
While no guys – married or single – would ever want to use him for a role model, that’s not the point of Cryer’s character. He’s the guy that everything wrong happens to…he never gets the girl, he’s mooching off his rich brother, and is constantly a disappointment to his judgmental mother. But the world needs underdogs like him because if he’s somehow able to survive all the mayhem that comes his way, then the rest of us definitely have a chance as well. I think it’s also crucial to remember that the presence of Alan and Jake make Charlie a much more caring person than he was when the show originally debuted. It’s through Alan’s acts of true fatherly love that open the lonely bachelor up to the idea of being considerate for those other than himself. Without Alan, Charlie would have just wasted away without truly understand the concept of being a family.
All of Alan’s issues and problems look annoying and bland on paper, but Cryer manages to bring them to life and makes even the most insane and eye-rolling circumstances hilarious. You never quite know how things are going to turn out for the poor guy since nothing ever seems to go his way, but you keep rooting for him because even through all the lunacy he’s endearing; we want to see him win once in a while. It’s for all of these reasons (along with the fact that he was able to put up with Sheen’s antics for the past eight years) that Cryer deserves to take home that supporting actor Emmy for a comedy series once again. This guy hasn't gotten any Emmy love since 2009 -- let's show the underdog some appreciation!
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S02E20 An obvious problem of a successful ensemble show is that certain characters and relationships rise to the top and break out, while others loiter around the background popping up occasionally to insert a funny remark (or just to remind the rest of the audience that do exist). With Modern Family, we’ve been beaten over the head with Cam and Mitchell working things out, Jay and Gloria still getting to know each other’s customs, and Claire and her daughters. Those are all really strong relationships and deserving of our attention. But it was actually really refreshing to see what was on display this week with Modern Family. We delved into relationships that have been long developing on the show but saw them finally get their time in the spot light.
“Wait, I think I hear a message coming in from Future-Lily from her stripper pole: ‘Thanks Gay Dad-Dads. This dance is for you.’” - Cam
We’ll start with relationships that we’ve seen more of before, and then we'll get to the newer ones. Jay’s bond with Manny has been well documented, but this week we’re seeing a slightly more mature relationship between the two of them. Manny is trying to back out of a camping trip for fear of a shower situation. Of course, he wasn’t able to admit to this to Jay until afterward but Jay nevertheless tried to toughen him up. As Cam comes to see later, underneath Jay’s tough exterior is a really caring and understanding father figure that Manny obviously needs. It was a touching storyline without beating us too over the head with the whole “tough love” ideology.
This was paired well with Cam and Mitch’s storyline of searching a guardian for Lily if god forbid (God forbid?) something were to happen to them. Claire and Phil were out for the obvious reasons (best use of a smash cut to chaos we’ve seen in a while) which left Jay and Gloria. Cam was a little hesitant at first. Actually Cam never does anything in a little manner, he was seriously not about to let Jay take guard over his daughter if he and Mitch both died. Despite all of Mitch’s whining about his father, Mitch realized his dad was a good dad and was doing well with Manny too. Unfortunately Cam saw this love at the wrong time when Jay was spotting Manny on the climbing wall. Cam tried to show Jay the true way to encourage a kid by showing them understanding and kindness. (Cam falling off the wall is one of the best visual gags the show has ever done. )
Cam and Mitch fall on Jay and Gloria after Gloria’s baby craziness takes over and she whisks Lily off to take her to the mall. She doesn’t seem to get that she only gets Lily should something happen to both Cam and Mitchell but that doesn’t stop her from doting on her. I know this will never happen, but it would be delightfully twisted if Gloria snapped and tried to do something to Cam and Mitchell. Actually it’d be quite scary. I’d never want to piss Gloria off. Anyway, Gloria does misstep when she pierces Lily’s ears. Cam and Mitchell freak out about their daughter being “punctured” but they never miss an opportunity to dress their little zen-daughter up as Coco Banana.
“She’s like the best doctor ever. A couple of puzzles, no shots, and I didn’t even have to take my pants off. Found that one out a little late.” - Luke
Now we get to the good stuff. The Dunphy household is an example of chaos as we plainly see when Cam and Mitch dropped by, but they make it work. As I’ve said countless times, Luke is one of the best characters on the show despite being relegated to the back seat most of the time. This week he was bumped up slightly when Claire and Phil get into it over his development. Claire has been taking him to see a child psychologist behind Phil’s back because she’s worried he’ll develop the lesser qualities of Phil while Phil, more rightly, thinks the kid is fine. This leads to a tense moment when Claire confesses this to Phil and Phil rightly is pissed off. But love saves the day (as love is wont to do) when Phil shows some remarkably mature reasoning behind his assessment of Luke. Claire just wanted to try and tweak him just a little while she still has the chance and Phil assures her that somewhere out there is a little girl organizing the shit out of her play pen that will match up perfectly with Luke. Of course, then they realize they left Luke in the parking garage at the doctor’s.
But Luke shows up in the back of a limo with a couple consummating their honeymoon. Because Luke is a pimp like that. Claire realizing she’s kind of a shrew, Phil coming out on top (with several great distractions at the psychologist), and more of Luke sprinkled throughout? I loved this storyline like Luke like some bright dangling streamers stuck in a tree.
Finally, we get into the one relationship that prior to all this, had existed in biting sarcastic remarks. We’ve seen Alex and Haley bond over boys before, but nothing brings siblings together more than getting into trouble together. Alex goes with Haley to break into the school and they run through the halls scared. They make it out to the car when Haley finally confesses that she skipped her cello lessons that day and being perfect is kind of wearing her down. Haley also confesses that if Alex stopped looking so good it would stop making her look so bad in comparison. It was sweet seeing the sisters come closer together because this is a show on Disney and while I do love their verbal daggers, it’s nice to see siblings bond once in a while. Not to mention it was some stellar acting from the two young actresses. Bravo indeed.
So we didn’t get a big final moment where everyone came together this week, but we did go deeper into some relationships we needed to go into and most of all it was hilarious while we did it. I’ve had my doubts about Modern Family keeping in top form this sophomore season but lately they’ve reminded me why they won that Emmy last year. Keep it up.
No one beat out ABC's pilot pick up yesterday, but Fox got a piece of the action by scooping up two single-camera comedies late last night. The network is hoping to continue the success they've had with Raising Hope, their single-camera family comedy hit, with two more family centric comedies called The Council of Dads and Family Album. This seems like a bit of a broad stroke - our single-camera family comedy is working, so let's order a bunch more - it may work.
First up, we have The Council of Dads, which is the downer of the two. Yes, it's a comedy with a downer element. Based off of the non-fiction book of the same name, is about a dying man who enlists the help of his friends for his wife and children once he's gone. Peter Tolan's (Rescue Me) project brings the six friends into the lives of the dying man's twin daughters and wife, but it eschews the book's happy ending wherein the father makes a full recovery and instead, the dad in the show is expected to eventually die. Wamp, wamp. I don't see how that helps with the comedy element, but I guess, at least at the moment, I'll leave that debacle to the professionals.
Next, Fox has another family-sized comedy cued up. This one claims to take a page out 24's book, with each season of the show capturing a single summer vacation with a father and his extended family. This of course means each episode will reflect only a few hours of the vacation (couldn't more ambitious, and try to do an hour an episode like Jack Bauer, eh?) and sounds completely boring. It boggles my mind that Fox would try to accomplish a show with a plot this plain - newsflash, we've already got a show about an extended family doing extended family things. It's called Modern Family, and it's kind of cornered the market, so good luck trying to best that.