What to Expect When You're Expecting, a film based on the self-help bestseller, is exactly what many critics expected: A subpar romantic comedy. As with similarly A-list ensemble rom-coms such as He's Just That Not Into You or Valentine's Day, critics are largely panning the new film. It's superficial, "spun from stale scenarios," packed with "predictable laughs," and short on emotional impact, says Sheri Linden at The Hollywood Reporter. The sprawling cast, playing couples expecting their first child, includes Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Matthew Morrison, Brooklyn Decker, and Chace Crawford. Which actors escape this dud alive? Here, four who manage to rise above the material:
1. Elizabeth Banks
Banks is undeniably the standout, says Jennie Punter at Canada's The Globe and Mail. Her character, a baby book author and breast-feeding boutique owner, is experiencing her first pregnancy. Banks nails the arc from "unshakably cheery" to histrionically frustrated with her awkward biological transformation. She also gets the best scene in the film, says Steve Persall at the Tampa Bay Times: A hysterical meltdown in which she confesses to her fans that, despite what she says in her advice books, "pregnancy isn't all it's cracked up to be."
2. Cameron Diaz
Diaz plays a fitness guru and host of a Biggest Loser-esque reality show, says Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly. Glee's Matthew Morrison plays her better half, and the two "spar painfully well" over whether their future son should be circumcised. Diaz also shines in the movie's opening scene, says Alison Willmore at Movieline, when her character is competing on a celebrity dance reality show, "writhing through ridiculous choreography" alongside The Hills' Whitney Port and NBA star Dwyane Wade. "The film's skewering of reality competitions is far more surefooted than any of its celebrations of the joys of parenting."
3. Anna Kendrick
The young Up in the Air Oscar nominee plays a 23-year-old food truck worker who becomes not-so-ideally pregnant after a one-night stand with a former classmate (Gossip Girl's Chace Crawford). The two stay together through the early stages of the pregnancy, but her character then suffers a miscarriage. Kendrick's performance is truly winning, says Mick LaSalle at The San Francisco Chronicle. "Though I can barely believe the character, I believe Kendrick [and] the emotion she brings to the role."
4. Chris Rock
Rock leads a Greek Chorus of men who are already dads, "certainly the biggest attraction for any male dragged to this film," says Pete Hammond at Box Office Magazine. Armed with the hippest Baby Bjorns, they offer wry advice about surviving your first child, breaking up the "predictability of the see-sawing storylines" and providing much-needed "comic punch." Rock steals the show, says Stephanie Merry at The Washington Post, but what does it say about a film when peripheral characters deliver the most enjoyable moments?