Originally titled “Gus” for its festival appearances, “Expecting” could more accurately be named “87 Minutes with Unfunny People You Will Hate” or “An 87-Minute Commercial for Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.” We can’t remember the last time we liked characters less than the ones in this film. We’re generally big fans of unlikable characters; when done well, they draw us in and keep us engaged, but they have to have humor or charm or interest or…anything to make up for being horrible people. It’s also challenging to have a movie full of them without anyone or anything redeeming to serve as a counterbalance. The characters in “Expecting” aren’t just unlikable; they’re unwatchable.
Radha Mitchell stars as Lizzie, a woman desperate to be a mother. She and her husband Peter (Jon Dore) have gone through several rounds of IVF unsuccessfully. When her single friend Andie (Michelle Monaghan) gets pregnant from a random hookup, she decides that giving her baby to Lizzie is the perfect solution to both of their problems. The only catch is that Lizzie wants Andie to stay their home throughout her pregnancy, causing issues between all parties involved. Peter and Lizzie’s marriage is already strained due to their fertility issues, and adding the unpredictable, filter-free Andie doesn’t help. Lizzie and Andie are alternately so close that they box out Peter, but they take breaks so that Lizzie can try to run Andie’s life. Peter alternates between being frustrated with his wife, his new roommate and both of them at the same time. Further complicating things is the arrival of Peter’s recovering addict brother Casey (Michael Weston) and the couple’s incontinent dog, Joyce.
The situation is ridiculous, acknowledged largely by Lizzie and Peter’s therapist (Mimi Kennedy, providing the majority of the film’s sparse laughs). The only thing worse than lending money to a friend is offering your unwanted fetus to her, but “Expecting” manages to pack in both unwise behaviors. Speaking of money, we’re not sure where anyone in this movie gets theirs. Though they live in an impeccably decorated hippie-chic house in L.A., Peter is an unsuccessful realtor who blows it with a major client, while the unemployed Lizzie tries to make ends meet with part-time work as a tutor. She also does cartwheels and sings a lot. Like more than she actually works. Meanwhile, we have no idea how Andie funds her existence, to say nothing of how she helps Lizzie make their mortgage payment. It can’t be getting paid for coming up with punny names like Gaseous Clay and Clammy Davis Jr.
These are awful people, and not in the entertaining way that vintage-era The Gang from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is. Even the normally magnetic Monaghan elicited more groans than giggles. All around, the performances are fine, but they can’t move past the script from first-time director Jessie McCormack. She’s created a group of people that you’d avoid at a party, and being stuck with them for an hour and a half makes you feel like you’re being punished for doing something really awful. Overall, it’s not a poorly constructed movie from a technical standpoint, particularly for a first feature. The performances work as much as they can, we weren’t annoyed by the cinematography and the set design was something out of shelter blog house tour. However, none of that makes up for the shoddy script that suffers from terrible dialogue and unlikely situations.
We appreciate that this is a movie more about friendship than romance, with the close bond between Andie and Lizzie driving the film. While it may not succeed at anything else, at least “Expecting” passes the Bechdel test. There’s so much more to talk about here than just men, like pregnancy gas and sensitive nipples. We’re fans of well-executed humor where women are just as raunchy as their male counterparts, and we appreciate the level of frankness around the pregnancy experience, but we just wish it were consistently better. Give us farts, but please make them funny ones. [D]