Expecting (2013)

About the best thing one can say about Expecting is that it isn’t quite as bad as the last theatrical movie about pregnancy, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. That’s faint praise, to be sure, and I hope nobody takes that as a recommendation, but Expecting is better than the 2012 film. At least this venture has a shred of depth and a couple of characters who actually sometimes act like real human beings. That alone makes it better, although even with those it still is somewhat far away from being a success.

I think the problem with Expecting is a lack of polish. Given that the film marks the feature-length debut of Jessie McCormack, that’s understandable. Everything just needed to be slightly better for it to fully work. Characters needed a touch more depth and a bit more understandable motivation. The plot needed to be tightened and more focused, but only slightly. The attempts at laugh needed to go through a couple of re-writes, with more than a few jokes coming off as slightly tasteless or just unfunny. All the elements of a successful dramedy are here; they weren’t handled quite well enough to come together as a successful motion picture.

The film begins with a married couple, Lizzie (Radha Mitchell) and Peter (Jon Dore), seemingly in love and happy, unable to conceive a child. Lizzie has wanted one her whole life — I figured she and the Paul Dano character from Gigantic would make a good match — but she and Peter just can’t get it done. Lizzie’s best friend is Andie (Michelle Monaghan), who after a one-night stand winds up pregnant. Jealousy may or may not ensue.

It might, but it doesn’t matter. Andie decides to have the baby for Lizzie and Peter. She’ll go through the pregnancy that she doesn’t want to do, and because she’s such a good friend, she’ll allow her best friend, whose sole motivation appears to be wanting a baby, to adopt it. Peter isn’t even asked, and when he does find out he’s not on-board. Perhaps he doesn’t want a child. Maybe taking care of his recently-out-of-rehab brother, Casey (Michael Weston), is already more responsibility than he can handle.

I’ve already said a few things with indecision because apart from Lizzie, who is motivated by wanting a child and seemingly nothing more, we’re often left to guess what exactly these characters want at any given time. Andie seems to just want to have fun and hang around the house — she moves in with Lizzie and Peter after the pregnancy because she has nobody else, I guess — Peter’s work and brother stress him out but he mostly keeps that to himself, and Casey just wants his brother to leave him alone. Okay, so Casey’s motivation is also pretty clear, but until the midway point he’s barely even in the film, and even once he starts appearing more he’s still not on the same level as the main three.

The problem with thinly motivated characters is that the film is robbed of any insight it wants to have into both the pregnancy and relationships between these people. It can’t exactly say anything when it’s unsure of what its characters are thinking and feeling. That’s where the polish comes in. Bringing us closer into their heads would allow Expecting to have some much-needed poignancy.

It also either needed to work on its sense of humor, or cut the comedy altogether and attempt to function as a straight-up drama. There are more than a few scenes designed to make us laugh, but most of them follow this formula: Andie says something “inappropriate” that any normal person wouldn’t say. For example, she continually taunts Casey about his drug problem. Exactly how is that funny?

In fact, I continually had to wonder exactly why Lizzie and Andie are friends at all. Apart from a couple of early scenes, they don’t share a whole lot of joy together, and Andie is so … “pure id” that it’s easy to side with Peter in his logical disdain for her very being. She doesn’t positively contribute to conversations or the household as a whole, she’s high-maintenance and she’s actually kind of mean. Why would Lizzie even want her baby?

About the only laughs come from a couple of scenes in which the characters go to the office of a therapist played by Mimi Kennedy, who gets to deliver a more R-rated version of the therapist Jane Lynch plays on Two and a Half Men. These are but a few sparks in an otherwise humorless picture. The actors — and these are typically good and/or funny actors — don’t even seem fully committed. Nobody seemed to particularly care about what was going on, even during the scenes that are supposed to be heavy in emotion.

Expecting is a surprisingly dull take on pregnancy and friendship that could have been a powerful and potentially enlightening experience but ultimately falls flat due to its lackluster characters. Without being able to understand them, the film loses its ability to say anything. It tries to mix humor and comedy and can’t manage to do either. The plot needed a more focused approach. And the actors needed to look like they cared more. It’s lacking in polish and it’s difficult to recommend, but at least it’s not What to Expect when You’re Expecting.

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