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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

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Matthew Morrison and Cameron Diaz in "What to Expect When You're Expecting."
Matthew Morrison and Cameron Diaz in "What to Expect When You're Expecting."

No epidural needed for pain-free "What to Expect"

After watching an ad for "What to Expect When You're Expecting," one would be forgiven for thinking the film was titled "What to Expect When Your Wife Is Expecting." The trailers focus almost entirely on "the dudes" while the actual expectant mothers alluded to in the title are relegated to background noise.

The goal is to convince potential male viewers that they shouldn't be afraid of their man-cards leaping from their pockets and bolting out of the theater in the hopes of finding an explosion. It's a transparent Hollywood trick, but there is some truth to it. Though it's certainly overstuffed, women and rom-com-fearing men alike should both find something amusing in "What to Expect."

The movie, based on the popular pregnancy guide by Heidi Murkoff, follows a collection of young couples about to start their adventures in parenting. Wendy and Gary (Elizabeth Banks and Ben Falcone) start enthusiastic, but as she loses control over her emotions and bodily functions, their excitement begins to wane.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Lopez plays a photographer who plans to adopt, but neither she nor her husband (Rodrigo Santoro, minus his loincloth and gold piercings from "300") feel ready, emotionally or financially. There are several other subplots as well, all improbably interconnecting like "Crash" but with babies instead of racism.

The movie's multi-character structure takes a page from 2003's "Love Actually," but screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach unfortunately didn't take anything from the page on balancing subplots.

A storyline involving a burgeoning relationship between two young food truck chefs (Anna Kendrick and Chase Crawford) is barely given much time to develop and is almost abandoned entirely in the film's second half. Instead, the movie spends far more time with Cameron Diaz's Jillian Michaels-esque celebrity trainer and a subplot that sure hopes the audience finds circumcision hilarious.

Where the writers do strike a nice balance, however, is in the emotions. While most of the stories go for laughs, it doesn't shy away from some of the more dramatic and often tragic elements. The mixture of comedy and life-or-death drama could've made for some jarring tone issues, but Cross, Hach and director Kirk Jones handle the various emotions smoothly and to great effect.

It helps that the cast is as talented as it is massive. Despite disappearing for large portions of the film, the effortlessly perky Kendrick is exceptional in easily the most interesting plotline. Jones' use of a mopey pop song in the emotional turning point of her story is an excessive intrusion, but the fact that the scene still works is a testimony to Kendrick's skill.

On the more comedic side, Banks scores a decent amount of laughs as a walking collection of every pregnancy side effect. However, it's Ben Falcone, "Bridesmaids"' Melissa McCarthy's off-screen husband, who steals the show. His self-deprecating humor and charming earnestness are the most consistently entertaining elements of the film.

The fact that one of the best characters in it is a man, however, speaks to a lingering issue I have with "What to Expect:" It paints women in a surprisingly unflattering light.

All of the male characters are understanding and sensible while their wives are stressed out of their minds, turning small issues into massive relationship-ending wars and lying. There is a nice girl power sequence near the end when several birthing scenes are paired up with a guy whimpering over a toe, but for the most part, the men seem like the more relatable characters.

To be fair, I think the movie's depiction of women is based more on comedic potential than a deep-seated hatred toward the female gender. It's far too busy trying to appeal to every demographic that could possibly purchase a ticket. It's diabolical, but its craftsmanship and charming cast is enough to disguise Hollywood's moneymaking schemes and make "What to Expect When You're Expecting" more enjoyable than you might expect.

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