10 Things to Expect From What to Expect When You're Expecting

You wouldn't know this from its cheery posters, but the new film What to Expect When You're Expecting is based on a book that, despite having sold more than 40 million copies since its original publication in 1984, is considered by many to be just about the worst for expectant parents. Full of warnings and admonishments about things like killer hiccups and oral-sex embolisms, and overwhelmingly rigid with respect to food (the book recommends the judgmentally titled "Best Odds Diet"—what, do you want to gamble with your kid's life and health?), What to Expect has actually been blacklisted by more than a few clinicians and birth centers.

Turning a notoriously fearmongering book into a sunny ensemble comedy starring the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, and Dennis Quaid is kind of a perfect example of Hollywood turning a lemon into lemonade (which may not be on the Best Odds acceptable-foods list, but whatever). Indeed, it's a ready-made opportunity for mainstream movies to do what they do best when it comes to pregnancy and gender narratives: namely, make them as obvious and lacking in nuance as possible.

What to expect when you're expecting poster shows women on the top and men on the bottom, all in various stages of childrearing.

Andi and I saw this movie on Friday so that you wouldn't have to, but if you do decide to go, besides the obvious product placement—copies of the book pop up nearly everywhere but in sonograms—here's our list of 10 things you can expect from What to Expect When You're Expecting:

1. Heteronormativity. I know, you're shocked. But really: Five couples living in two major cities (four in Atlanta, one in Los Angeles), stressing and expecting, and not a gay in sight? For a movie that does strive for some demographic diversity—a Latino couple here, black and South Asian dads there—it's a notably underachieving move, not to mention one that squanders a lot of comic potential. A set of neurotic Jewish lesbians—just spitballing here—would really have elevated the film. Or at least made it a bit more brunette.

2. Stereotypical, essentialist characterizations of men and women. There are the baby-crazy women struggling with infertility, who we know are baby-crazy because they work in kidcentric professions—Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) owns a baby store; Holly (J.Lo) is a photographer who specializes in portraits of children, often with dolphins. Both feel like their failed attempts at conception make them less womanly than their Fertile-Myrtle counterparts; Holly laments that she "can't even do the one thing that a woman is meant to do." Both feel that they won't be complete without the experience of motherhood.

Even more prominent is the pack of fathers, led by Chris Rock, who serve as the film's Greek chorus of What to Expect, Dude Edition. Holly's husband, shaken by the reality of an impending adoption, joins the group of dads who spend Saturdays in the park, toting diaper bags and Baby Bjorns, and gets a crash course in both baby care (diapers will occasionally get put on backwards, by mistake) and wife management (if said diaper does get put on backwards, the wife must NEVER FIND OUT). The fathers' group, just FYI, meets every Saturday—but less explored is the fact that it meets only on Saturdays. In other words, for the rest of the week, the mothers are the ones doing the parenting, which, because it's the status quo, is not a reality as ripe for comic exploration in the film.

Dudes group movie poster shows four dads walking in the park with their babies in strollers in front of them.

3. An attempt to acknowledge the different experiences and outcomes of pregnancy, albeit with very little plot significance attached to them. Banks's Wendy is positioned as the emotional center of the film. Devoted to all things mommy (her first book is a paean to breastfeeding called Breast is Best), she has struggled with infertility and gets pregnant only when she and her husband, Gary (Ben Falcone, the air marshal from Bridesmaids and real-life husband of Melissa McCarthy), relax and have sex in some bushes in a park. Though Wendy is arguably the most de facto prepared to be a mother, she's also the most compromised by it physically: She desperately wants "the glow" that pregnant mothers are promised, but instead ends up with cankles, flatulence, and constant exhaustion, all of which are portrayed as hilarious, for the audience at least. And, as you might expect, she's also the lady who shows up at the hospital with a typed birth plan that ends up being scrapped by complications leading to an emergency C-section.

Her experience is contrasted with that of Skyler (Brooklyn Decker) the sparkly trophy wife of Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), Gary's ex–racecar driver father. Skyler floats through pregnancy—with twins, no less—on six-inch heels, literally sneezing out one of her babies after the mellowest of labors. And then there's Jules (Cameron Diaz), a type-A fitness guru who hosts a Biggest Loser–type TV show. Refusing to compromise her grueling schedule, she ends up being put on bed rest, a thousand miles from home, in her last trimester. And, in a nod to the spectrum of pregnancy outcomes, the film also includes a miscarriage. Which leads us to…

4. No inkling that a thing called "abortion" exists. Of the storylines in the film, only one has to do with an unintended pregnancy. But that one—which involves flirtatiously warring food-truck owners Rosie and Marco (Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford)—would really have benefited from some development that explained how two twentysomethings went from a night of sex on the hood of a car (do people in Atlanta have sex indoors, ever?) to oopsie pregnancy to sudden domestic semi-bliss. There's literally no discussion that occurs between Rosie being like,"Um, guess what?" and Marco, several months later, admiring her growing belly in a moonlit bedroom. Then again, there's also no explanation of why, a few scenes later when she miscarries, Atlanta is blanketed in snow, despite the rest of the movie's eternal summer. Convenient miscarriages just demand the poignancy of inclement weather, maybe?

5. The depiction of parenthood as punishment. That's right, dudes. You WILL sell your awesome two-door car that has no room for a car seat. You WILL walk around—on Saturdays, at least—like a pack mule, weighted down with pacifiers, wipes, sun hats, and multicolored plastic teething thingamajigs. You WILL be depicted doing such things against a musical backdrop of Notorious B.I.G., because only "Big Poppa" can truly underscore what an uncool, emasculated joke it is when men parent. And you, buff shirtless guy played by Joe Mangianello? Yeah, all the Saturday dads high-five you simply for living a life full of free weights and single sex, but when you get the news that your far-flung fling is moving to Atlanta—and bringing your squalling love child with her—those guys are thrilled that you'll be on their level now.

- Andi

6. Money? Not a problem. Health care might be an issue for the rest of the country, but it's not on the mind of anyone in this movie—not even the freelance photographer or the food truck chef (jobs that likely don't include a benefits package). Not only that, no one in the film save Holly even mentions money as a factor when deciding whether or not to have kids. Must be nice, right? Maybe that's why...

7. Everyone wants to be a parent. And I mean EVERYONE. From the married couple who's been trying for years, to the relative strangers who make a baby on accident, to the May-December couple who already has a thirtysomething (step)son, all of the characters in this movie want to have a baby. Yes this is a movie about having babies, but where are the single friends? The reality checks? The discussions about what a life without kids might be like? Yeah, they're in a different movie.

collage of the posters for the movie, showing the four main women characters in various stages of pregnancy

8. Chris Rock is a Magical Negro of fatherhood. The "Dudes Group" scenes in this movie are obviously meant to get the most laughs (and in our theater, they did) but they're also filled with the most exposition. Narrating that exposition, and guiding his group of hapless dad friends around the park, is Chris Rock. He's there to provide guidance, reassurance, and permission to the other dudes—and not much else. In true Magical Negro fashion, we never learn his backstory and he's the only black person in the group unless you could his three kids (all of whom are named after professional athletes, for what it's worth, and one of whom is constantly getting hit in the head with stuff. See aforementioned laughs). If you have a question about fatherhood—even one you haven't asked out loud yet—Chris Rock will answer it, wisely.

9. Pregnant women in the US are getting older, and so are the actors in this movie. Considering that a generation ago, a woman who got pregnant after 30 was considered a risk taker, it's worth noting that the three leads in this film are either pushing 40 or pulling it behind them. Though clearly a nod to pregnancy demographics, this casting is also a likely nod to audience demographics (according to the CDC, women are still most likely to have their first child between the ages of 25 and 29). The producers of this film figured that their core demographic was 40ish women who are either pregnant or want to get pregnant (or want to watch Cameron Diaz get pregnant). They're probably right, but it still means a lot of pregnancy experiences got left out.

10. If you're honest about the darker side of pregnancy, everyone will lose their shit. At one point in Expecting, Wendy breaks down at a baby convention and says she's calling bullshit because "pregnancy sucks." When this happens, all of the moms-to-be in the audience are as shocked as if she'd asked them to reach their bare hands into their vaginas and pull their babies out right there on the spot. The next day, people line up around the block to meet Wendy and a video of her talk gets millions of hits on YouTube. Seriously folks, have you never heard of a mommy blog? Admitting that pregnancy blows sometimes is de rigeur these days and nothing to freak out about. There's nothing to see here, people. Come to think of it, "nothing to see here" could work as an alternate tagline to this movie, too.

- Kelsey

Bitch Media publishes the award-winning quarterly magazine, Bitch:Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

8 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I actually liked the movie, related to it

More girls hating on girls - way to go feminism.

I saw this movie, liked it a lot. Laughed, cried - guess I'm not a feminist enough.

Seems like you guys are going out of your way to bend the movie to your hate/ agenda. Take the comedy waaaay too literally.

I liked that it included the circumcision debate. I liked that Cameron's character called out the unfairness that Matt's character didn't have to leave his job -- I've def felt that being pregnant.

I've been in lamaze class where a perfect Brooklyn type stomped in wearing stiletto boots - I wanted to punch her. I laughed at that in the movie.

Your dismissal of Chris Rock is a little mean spirited. The guy is a real life dad, felt real to me.And I thought he was GREAT role model talking about how much he loved being a dad, didn't know he could be that happy before kids. That's a bad stereotype? And I thought maybe a coupla those guys were stay at home dads or maybe both parents worked. Especially the guy who had a rough time b/c they said his wife had just been gone on a business trip and the baby had gotten sick and he was exhausted (how many stay at home moms haven't felt that?).

And any parent is lying saying they haven't felt like it sucks balls at times, even though it's worth it overall -- men and women. And I liked the no judging rule -- b/c goddamn, have you ever read a mommy blog? Yiiiiiiiiikes.

And I have been with a girlfriend who suffered infertility (and was cool) and admitted feeling like a failure b/c she couldn't make a baby. In the movie Jennifer's husband reassures her that's not true and seeing her become a mom through adoption was very moving -- showing a womb don't make a mama, that was the larger point. Also why is she 'baby crazy' for wanting to adopt? Is the only cool/ feminist way to adopt if you're blase, don't care? WTF?

I think it's sexist to frame any woman wanting a baby as 'baby crazy' -- only Elizabeth's Banks' character came off that way to me. Anna's character wasn't. Cameron's wasn't.

And it's a movie about pregnancy for chrissakes of course it's going to focus on people having kids - that's the point. Most other rom coms are about single people. How much MORE story did you want in there? Though I agree, a coupla jewish lesbians woulda been cool to see.

And even though it didn't do abortion (what movie does, even Girls didn't) Kendrick's character felt real when she said she wished it. It was definitely dark.

Honestly being preg w/ my second, i just like seeing something to relate to -- talking about how you miss your pretty bras (I do!), you fart all the time, 'roids, and not having the fucking glow on every brochure in your ob's office. Plus I like Elzabeth'a stretch marked belly! Never saw that in a movie. But I stay away from mommy blogs b/c they scare me.

Please, don't be a hypocrite

I would like to point out that in the first three paragraphs you wrote you managed to "hate on" the girls who originally wrote the article. Please don't be perpetuating a problem you claim you want to help.

Hats off...

...for sitting through this movie. You have confirmed my expectations as to the shallowness and stereotypical tone of this movie - Dads only have kids on Saturday/pregnant women are mad control freaks - which is why I wouldn't go and see it even if i was paid to do so. You can just tell that the whole movie was directed and produced by the boys as usual. So utterly boring.

This is not hate this is criticism

I find it disturbing how people are equating criticism with hatred. Andi and Kelsey were criticising the film, not "hating" on it, nor the women in the film. There is a very serious difference between criticism and hatred and and it pains me that too many people are using criticism as "free passes" to hate on anyone and anything.

Criticism is intended to be a teaching tool, to get people to think critically, to cite examples of how anything can be "better," more intelligent, more respectful ... and to encourage understanding that not all opinions about the world around them are in agreement with them ... thinking "outside the box." I learned these concepts taking journalism some twenty-odd years ago. I have to wonder what journalism professors and teachers today feel about all the condescending responses to criticisms on the internet that are from, I am assuming, under-educated, ignorant people insisting that criticism is a form of hatred or misogyny against anything they deeply love or defend.

Hatred is hatred/misogyny.

knocked up feminist: There is no such thing as "feminist enough." There are many feminist parents, but not all of them will agree with you and may find this film to not be in their taste. If you liked it, fine. I am not criticising you for liking it. But, as I said, not everyone will like the film, and Andi and Kelsey's critique is indicative of how it's not for everyone and may insult some feminists' ... and even others' ... intelligence.

As a happy, content non-parent with friends and family being parents that I never hate-on, I have no interest in watching this film, or even any of those "single-people" films that came out recently. I happen to be tired of them and I do not feel I identify with any of the characters that were portrayed in them. I respect what Andi and Kelsey had to say about "What to Expect when You're Expecting." I'll spend my $10+ elsewhere.

Thank you for this review.

Thank you for this review. This movie made me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, and you have articulated them so well here.

I think you're absolutely on target with all of your critiques. I was amazed by the homogeniety of the cast and the heteronormativity of the film. The storytelling was so bland. There were plenty of little conflicts (Cameron Diaz's character refusing to allow her partner to make baby-related decisions, for instance) that were full of dramatic potential that were never explored. It was as though the birthing scenes (which all took place in hospitals, with no discussion of options) cleansed the conflict out of all of these relationships. There was never a reality-check moment, as you keenly observed.

You opened my eyes completely with your "magic negro" reading. I hadn't considered Chris Rock's role very carefully - I spent so much time trying to puzzle out how all of the characters knew one another that I didn't see how token the black actors in this film really are.

I would add an eleventh point to your list: sizeism. MANY of the jokes in this film use fatness as a punchline. In the scene where Cameron Diaz confronts Elizabeth Banks' husband about his size, and then complains about how awful it is when people try to read her the riot act about her own changing body, I was expecting much more of a revelation about how her work (and the film itself) is promoting thinness and caricaturing fatness. As with so many moments in this film, the ideas were there, but the depth was not.

Well, what did you expect?

Well, what did you expect? Honestly?

In regards to this point: ~~~~Both feel like their failed attempts at conception make them less womanly than their Fertile-Myrtle counterparts; Holly laments that she “can’t even do the one thing that a woman is meant to do.” Both feel that they won’t be complete without the experience of motherhood.~~~~

Because no woman has ever felt that way before and the last thing we should do is express how some women actually feel about pregnancy in a movie about pregnancy? Some women live and breathe to have kids. I don't feel like life would be complete for me if i couldn't have kids. Does that make me a bad feminist or something? Is it really such a negative thing to portray in a movie about pregnancy and motherhood?

And why mention abortion in a movie about pregnancy and expectant mothers? Why does abortion have to be mentioned in every movie about parenting/pregnancy? Sheesh. Abortion isn't a consideration or a possibility for every woman who finds herself with an unintended pregnancy or a woman with a pregnancy. God forbid abortion isn't mentioned, lest we forget it exists!

And of course it's going to feature all heterosexual couples, that's who it's marketed towards, and who the book is marketed towards. And if there were a neurotic Jewish lesbian couple in the movie, it would annoy and piss me off to no end because their characters would totally be tokens, in there for the sake of them being lesbians. And Jewish. And I think you know this too, and it would be something you'd criticize the movie for. And it's an offensive stereotype. Can we please have a non-neurotic Jewish stereotype for once? My Jewish grandfather is rolling in his grave right now.

And if there were people in the movie who didn't want kids, the movie wouldn't be What to Expect When You're Expecting. Just like Juno wouldn't be Juno if she got an abortion (which the movie was criticized for as well).

Sometimes I sincerely wonder what would make you folks happy.... if a black father character isn't in the movie, that's bad. If he's in the movie but is mostly silent, or has a few lines, he's the token black character and has no depth. If he's the wisest dad of the bunch, he's the Magical Negro. So what's the answer? I guess at this point I kinda don't know why you even bother anymore because nothing is ever going to measure up to your standards, whatever they are.

Too true.

Too true.

THANK YOU

thank god for the fact that there are still some people who have good taste in movies. i don't give a damn if this movie is criticized on feminism or just that its a crappy movie .. the sad thing is i don't have to see it to know that. and i really, really doubt that a non-feminist highly regarded movie critic such as Roger Ebert would articulate many of the issues you pointed out, and probably many more. If we let these type of movies make money, then all Hollywood will churn is this type of crap. PHEW.