‘I didn’t use to say that word,” says one of the fathers in What to Expect When You’re Expecting, “but when a baby comes out of it, it’s a vagina.”
As if stepping up to the new Tampax challenge – “Are you uncomfortable saying the word vagina?” – the v-word is used boldly and derisively by the dumpy male posse in Kirk Jones’s forthcoming film, based on the “pregnancy bible” of the same name.
Currently receiving a big preview push, Expecting, which adapts the guide into the story of five couples and their journey toward ‘the miracle’ and ‘the glow,’ falls into an indeterminate genre. Given its rampant emotional moments and intimate body/pregnancy shop talk, it’s technically a chick flick. However, it also pulls men, uncomfortably yet gamely, into the discourse and actions around childbirth.
This is new.
Friends with Kids, which came and went earlier this spring, covered similar terrain. Here, we saw an updated adaptation of The Next Best Thing (2000) and The Object of My Affection (1998) – films about gay men faux-partnering with crazy straight women. That is, two straight friends have a no-strings-attached baby together, a project that fails, obviously, resulting in the romantic triumph of the director/writer/actor Jennifer Westfeldt (whose racy, fecund inner life is surprising given her startling resemblance to a Dick Tracy villain).
Expecting is not about unlikely parents, but rather marginally alternative or broadly representational pairs, including a fifty-something man (Dennis Quaid) and his 25-year-old wife (the movie-stealing Brooklyn Decker), a barren Latino couple (Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro) and rival food truck chefs (Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford).
It is also not a love story, unlike virtually every other preggo movie, which always seem to involve the parents coming to terms with each other and the seismic, screaming shift in their lives.
While Expecting follows the rules, and creates minor conflicts among its couples, its focus – and this constitutes a true dramatic shift – is on the babies. Then the men, and finally, the women.
Leaving the artistic merit to the critics (though in the preview screening, I am not sure how, crickets chirped in the theatre among the deathly silence attending a laboured golf cart chase) and leaving aside that for some viewers, it may be something that would anger them if offered as the sole viewing option on a plane, Expecting is an important film.
During the predictably sucky ending, two things are said. One character holds her son and realizes that he is the “glow” she has been waiting for. Simultaneously, Quaid’s character tells his adult son from another marriage that fathers, in a previous era, were not allowed to be part of the birth. And that only his children matter: “They are all we leave behind.”
Moving the notion of the sacred, glowing miracle to the child itself, and out of, and away from the formerly sacred mother/vessel is a quantum leap in pop culture. As Simone de Beauvoir argued long ago, we do not make babies. They make themselves inside of us – a radiant feat indeed.
Bringing the fathers on deck is huge as well. Says one of the seemingly miserable Big Poppa posse to a reluctant father-to-be: “You don’t get it. We LOVE being fathers.” This is said as they walk with and care for their children.
No gimmicks required here: This is a film about babies getting ready to be born and joined with two complete parents.
After saying a prayer, and commanding the couples to love and care for their children, the priest during the Ethiopian adoption ceremony says, “You are now parents.”
What to Expect When You’re Expecting tells us that with love and a unified commitment, it just may be as simple as that.