Dir: Kirk Jones. US. 2012. 110mins


A number of winning performances help keep nominally afloat ensemble baby-bump dramedy What To Expect When You’re Expecting, a colourful crowd-pleaser that is facile but about an inch deep with respect to honest relationship complications. Adapted liberally from Heidi Murkoff’s 1984 book of the same name, which peddled anecdotal and peer-driven information for soon-to-be parents, this confection works mainly as a piecemeal showcase for the talents of its cast.

Banks again proves herself a gifted comedienne.

A diverse and well known cast should make the movie successful counterprogramming against Battleship and The Dictator, when all open wide Stateside next week. The universality of its premise will bolster international returns beyond what is typically expected for comedic fare, and demographic ancillary value will additionally remain high.

The movie centers on five expectant couples in a cross-section of circumstances. After having been partnered on a celebrity dance show, fitness instructor Jules (Cameron Diaz) and dance partner Evan (Matthew Morrison) try to cope with pregnancy amidst their demanding work schedules. Baby-crazy author Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and her husband Gary (Ben Falcone) have been trying to conceive for ages, and when they finally do they discover that Gary’s dad Ramsey (Dennis Quaid) is expecting twins with his new wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker). Photographer Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and her husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) are considering adoption. Rival food truck chefs and ex-high school classmates Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford), meanwhile, try to negotiate the after-effects of a one-night stand.

Director Kirk Jones seems a fair bit removed from the winsome yet rooted delight of his debut, Waking Ned Devine. Here he trades in “cutaway comedy,” divvying up dialogue and reaction shots in a manner more suited for episodic sitcom television. Several ensemble scenarios have rich promise for interplay, but the manner in which they are staged, photographed and edited undercut their reality.

In a near pathological avoidance of what was likely deemed “too heavy” in studio executive notes, screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach construct conflict largely through conversations sidestepped or doubts and issues only temporarily resolved. A miscarriage gets a melancholic montage. A shifty and complicated relationship gets a feel-good marriage proposal. Other bits, like a manic golf cart race staged to putatively resolve father-son tension, feel like a sop to male audiences, and entirely unsuccessful to boot.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, the movie’s most consistent and genuine laughs come from a “dude’s group” of daddies who get together on Saturdays to walk their children in a nearby park, and idolise and live vicariously through a buff jogger (Joe Manganiello). Taking Alex under their wing, this group (which includes Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon and Rob Huebel) peddles a kind of shrugging, judgment-free parenting style, which robustly embodies the exuberant frustrations of motherhood and fatherhood, and acknowledges that routinely screwing up is part of the experience.

Along with nice song selections and a playful score from Mark Mothersbaugh that play up its emotional connections, the film’s cast is certainly its strongest selling point. Banks again proves herself a gifted comedienne. As her husband, the lesser known Falcone gets some nice opportunities to shine. Up in the Air’s Kendrick confirms her status as one of her generation’s smartest, ever-present young stars, while Rebel Wilson, one of Kristen Wiig’s roommates in Bridesmaids, also delivers some scene-stealing fun.

Production companies: Alcon Entertainment, Phoenix Pictures

Domestic distribution: Lionsgate

Producers: Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, David Thwaites

Executive producers: Mark Bakshi, Heidi Murkoff, Erik Murkoff, Alan Nevins, Allison Shearmur, Jim Miller

Co-producers: Doug McKay, Matthew Janzen, Louis Phillips

Screenplay: Shauna Cross and Heather Hach, inspired by the book “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” by Heidi Murkoff

Cinematography: Xavier Grobet

Editor: Michael Berenbaum

Production designer: Andrew Laws

Music: Mark Mothersbaugh

Music supervisors: PJ Bloom, John Houlihan

Website: www.WhatToExpectTheFilm.com

Main cast: Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Ben Falcone, Chris Rock, Anna Kendrick, Chace Crawford, Dennis Quaid, Matthew Morrison, Thomas Lennon, Brooklyn Decker, Rodrigo Santoro, Joe Manganiello, Rob Huebel, Amir Talai, Rebel Wilson and, appearing as themselves, Dwayne Wade, Whitney Port, Megan Mullally, Cheryl Cole, Tyce Dioro and Taboo