Deborah Ross

Birth pains

Birth pains
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As a general rule, what to expect when you are expecting is a baby, which is always kind of miraculous, but the way everyone carries on in this film you’d think nobody had ever had one before. This is odd, particularly as the latest research has proven that having babies predates the iPod, internet and digital photography, and may even predate the Breville sandwich toaster, although this is not yet known for certain. Still, this all-star ensemble mash-up treats pregnancy as if it were the very latest news, and although it’s meant to be a comedy, did I laugh? I might never have stopped but for one small thing, which I feel obliged to mention: I never started. I sat there stony-faced like a stone, with a face.

This is ‘loosely based’ on the best-selling pregnancy manual of the same name by Heidi Murkoff, although why anyone would want to overlay a narrative on a manual and turn it into a film is anyone’s guess, although I am kind of hoping The Highway Code, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, might be on its way soon. (I think if anyone can get into the character of a man slowing down on approaching a zebra crossing, it is him.)

Anyway, this strings together the stories of five couples in various states of impending parenthood, none of whom is in the least interesting, so why did it attract such a high-power cast? Probably because the agent called and said, ‘How about earning some good money for old rope, duck? You’ll scarcely even have to act. In fact, why bother? You can just pootle around glibly.’ So, it stars Cameron Diaz as Jules, a fitness guru whose romance with Evan (Matthew Morrison), her partner on a Strictly Come Dancing-type show, lands her in the family way, but with their busy schedules will they ever be in the same place at the same time? Then there is Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), a militant mommy-in-waiting, who gives breast-is-best talks and runs a shop selling all things baby, and who expects to glow beatifically throughout her three trimesters, but will she? Her husband is Gary (Ben Falcone), who, for reasons best known to the film-makers, as it adds nothing and is about as funny as a poke in the eye with a scalding toasting fork, is always in competition with his moneybags father (Dennis Quaid), whose trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker) is expecting twins. And now, can we stop? No. There is more. And don’t complain. You know, I had to actually sit through this when I could have been doing something much more interesting, like lining up my spice jars in height order, so think on that.

There is also Holly (Jennifer Lopez) who can’t conceive but is ready to adopt, if her husband is, as well as a young couple (Chace Crawford and a wondrously wasted Anna Kendrick) wandering around as if they were in another movie altogether, and yet we still can’t stop, because there is also a bunch of dads, headed by Chris Rock, who meet in the park once a week to discuss the pluses and minuses of fatherhood, like we care.

The problems with this bloated, superficial mess are so numerous I will concentrate on just a few:

1. The characters are so sketchy and clichéd you cannot engage with any one of them.

2. As potential parents, these characters are so stunningly self-involved, selfish, petty, absurd, clueless, whiney, thick, shallow and soulless it would be better all round if Child Protection Services stepped in and whipped all the babies away at birth. I wouldn’t even let any of them look after my goldfish, Bubbles, were I to go away for a weekend. (‘I’m very glad to hear it!’ says Bubbles.)

3. Miss Diaz and Miss Lopez are both awarded swimming scenes, hence some wholly gratuitous bikini shots probably inserted to please the males in the audience, although if you are the sort of male who goes to the cinema for this reason, you absolutely deserve to sit through the whole thing.

4. As this is ultimately a joyous affirmation, all the babies are born shiny and rosy pink and adorable and are instantly lovable even though anyone who has actually had a baby knows they are bloodied horrors; like Victoria plums that have been smashed against a door jamb. (‘WTF! Take it away,’ is actually a first-time mother’s most common response.)

5. The humour? Peeing your pants in later stages of pregnancy? Three times. Morning-sickness jokes and unexpected vomiting in embarrassing places? Four times. Probability you can’t stop laughing because you never started: 100 per cent. Chances are, you may even throw up yourself. And no one would blame you.