Expecting (2013) / Comedy-Drama
aka My Best Friend's Baby
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexual content, drug references, and language
Running Time: 87 min.
Cast: Radha Mitchell, Michelle Monaghan, Jon Dore, Michael Weston, Mimi Kennedy
Director: Jessie McCormack
Screenplay: Jessie McCormack
Review published December 5, 2013
Jessie McCormack writes and directs this indie comedy set in Los Angeles about pregnancy, childbirth, and the weight it applies to relationships that may not have the fortitude to support such dynamic changes. Though it does have its share of good moments, one could say that the film is so slight in its setup and delivery, that it too doesn't have the fortitude to support the heaviness of the subject matter it tries to tackle within, including an extra element of a drug addict coming out of rehab and his attempt to assimilate back into so-called normal society. It's caught between snarky sitcom and family drama, and though there are examples of films in the past that have been able to mix the two well, Expecting struggles, primarily because the tone shifts gears from one to the other in inconsistent ways.
Radha Mitchell (Surrogates, Melinda and Melinda) stars as Lizzie, a woman who has been trying desperately for years to fulfill her dream of having children. Try as she might with her husband Peter (Dore, Stag), it has yet to occur, and the marriage has been stagnant as a result, requiring sessions with a marriage and family therapist (Kennedy, Midnight in Paris) to try to sort out. Michelle Monaghan (Source Code, Eagle Eye) plays Andie, Lizzie's BFF, an unmarried free spirit who, by chance, happens to get pregnant in one of her one-night stands, and just isn't ready for it. She contemplates ending it, but feels compassion for her friend, and comes up with a solution that will aid both their situations: she will have the baby and let Lizzie and Peter adopt it as their own. Andie moves in as they make preparations, but things get more crowded and complicated when Peter's adoptive sibling Casey (Weston, State of Play), who is recovering from serious drug addiction, also moves in.
It's McCormack's first attempt at writing and directing a full-length feature, and while she certainly shows skill enough at both to suggest she has the talent to do so, where her film falls short is in introducing too many moving parts into what should have been a simpler story explored with more depth than is given in a meager 87 minutes. The sense of character is good, and she draws out fine performances from a talented quartet of actors, but the depth of their relationships are thinly drawn out, such that, when moments of heartfelt drama do emerge, the emotional element that should keep us drawn to what happens next falls flat.
We should care whether Lizzie and Peter stay together. We should care whether Casey manages to right his path in life. We should care whether Andie is able to find happiness and fulfillment. And we most certainly should care what happens when this newborn child eventually emerges. Alas, we don't, which renders the film a misfire, despite the obvious talent of those in front of and behind the camera.
Perhaps if the film hadn't spent as much time on symbolic surrogates, starting off with Casey, the brother who seems introduced to bring out Peter's doubts in having an adopted baby who might be genetically inclined to addiction (or worse). Perhaps if it didn't spend so much precious time in the married couple's dynamic with the only "child' they've ever had, the dog, as a means to point out what might happen should they actually have a baby to care for. Perhaps if there weren't frequent allusions to the front gate of the house needing fixing, as a means to show different approaches (or lack thereof) to basic responsibilities that haven't been working in the marriage. While the attempt to draw everything in to the subject symbolically is a nice screenwriting touch, the fact that we deal with all of these heady issues indirectly makes for a diffuse experience for us as viewers, as we long for all of these wishy-washy characters to just get to the meat of the matter and say what they truly feel.
As mentioned previously, there are refreshing moments in which McCormack strikes on a truthful conversation or bit of revelation about family, marriage, and friendship. These scenes suggest what might have been if these moments could have been the tone of entire film. Instead, the thought to make the film more broadly entertaining, mostly through crass dialogue that would likely never be said in their situations (the very unprofessional MFT tells her clients, "I'll stroke the shaft, but I won't cradle the balls" when telling them that she finds their problems boring), dilutes the effectiveness of the film to just a sporadically interesting, yet, ultimately, vacuous experience. While the performances are fine, and McCormack shows some raw talent, don't expect much of a delivery from Expecting.
©2013 Vince Leo