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What to Expect When You’re Expecting

by on May 17, 2012
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Three quarters of the way through “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” I consoled myself with the thought, “At least no one’s used the word ‘vajayjay.’ ” Not two minutes later, the horrifically cutesy euphemism was dropped, joining a pile of awful gender stereotypes, squandered comedic ability and pandering parodies.

In the hands of the right screenwriter — and without the weight of a self-help adaptation — “What to Expect” could have been a hilarious yet gentle exploration of the strange journey to parenthood. With a diverse cast, the different experiences of culture, sexuality and class could have been lightly touched on without being too overbearing. (Lofty expectations of a summer blockbuster, I know, but a critic can dream.)

Instead, Elizabeth Banks whines about farts.

“What to Expect” pats itself on the back with a nod to diversity: Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro rent instead of own and are adopting a child from Ethiopia. But there are no gay couples or single parents in sight.

Alums of “Bridesmaids,” one of 2011’s best mainstream movies, are tragically underused. Ben Falcone (aka Air Marshal Jon in “Bridesmaids”) whines his dialogue as Banks’ husband, forever emasculated by his NASCAR-driving father (Dennis Quaid, whose goofy enjoyment is perhaps the movie’s sole highlight), who’s knocked up his trophy wife with twins.

Rebel Wilson shone in “Bridesmaids” as a gloriously nutty roommate; here she’s reduced to the butt of fat jokes. And Wendi McLendon-Covey (desperate housewife Rita in “Bridesmaids”) barely has lines at all here and, apart from a humorous drunken exchange, doesn’t even interact with her husband, played by McLendon-Covey’s former “Reno 911!” castmate Thomas Lennon.

Though it received undeserved backlash, “Juno” contained a touching moment when an adoptive mother touched a teenager’s pregnant belly and gazed up in wonder. 2009’s “Away We Go” combined ironic humor and real heart as one couple traveled cross-country to decide where to raise their unborn daughter. None of the genuine laughs or sincere exchanges of these two films can be found in “What to Expect.” In their place are a cadre of incompetent and bitter stay-at-home dads (including Chris Rock) and Anna Kendrick, woefully miscast as a hip food-truck chef.

Had “What to Expect” fallen in the hands of “Bridesmaids” co-writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, it could have been an excellent ensemble comedy, perhaps titled “Bridesmaids 2: This Time It’s Maternal.” The cast would be reconfigured, following couples Matthew Morrison and Megan Mullally (the latter has a wonderful, probably improvised cameo); Santoro and Quaid (yes, a gay couple); Falcone and Wilson (yes, a not-conventionally-attractive couple); and Lennon and McLendon-Covey. The bevy of bitter dads could stay, with better jokes and a token mom. I envisioned this entire setup while viewing “What to Expect.” I had nothing else to do.