Look, I’m not fool enough to believe that mainstream Hollywood films are meant to be anything other than vehicles for common folk like me to temporarily escape our dreary daily lives. And hey, I’m fine with that most of the time – chances are, if I make the conscious choice to watch a fluffy flick starring the likes of Cameron Diaz, I’m probably not in the mood to see my everyday existence cinematically mirrored. But now that I’m pregnant (again), I can’t help but notice (again) how outrageously, offensively unrealistic the experience of bringing a child into the world is usually portrayed on the big screen. Full makeup during labor? Perky round baby bumps that appear overnight on otherwise perfectly toned bodies? Not even freaking close. Of course, idealized appearances are part of every big-budget blockbuster package; as such, I can excuse a little lip-gloss in the delivery room. The rest of these mama-to-be movie misdemeanors, however, are not quite so forgivable.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012)
I don’t know about you, but I started to get suspicious about the “What to Expect…” movie the minute I heard it was supposed to be based on the best-selling pregnancy guide of the same name. Considering that a more appropriate title for said guide would have been something along the lines of “What Horrific Life-Threatening Disorder Your Baby Will Almost Definitely Develop This Month if You Don’t Restrict Yourself to a Diet of Cottage Cheese and Wheat Germ,” I couldn’t imagine what sort of roles Diaz or J. Lo might be playing. (Maybe one of them would sit in a rocking chair and stare off into space like that depressed lady on the cover of the book for the entire movie?) Luckily, the film turned out to be not really based on the book at all…except not luckily, because I would have rather watched Elizabeth Banks eat cottage cheese for two hours than be forced to witness the actress (who actually has some genuine comedic talent) play a woman who tells her husband she’s pregnant by jumping into a pool fully clothed with two handfuls of positive preggers tests. Okay, fine – her character, “Wendy,” is supposed to be a “baby expert,” the owner of a maternity store called The Breast Choice; she and her husband had also been trying to conceive for awhile, so maybe she would be excited enough at the big news to take a dip in her dress. (By the way, how exactly did Wendy become so passionate about breastfeeding and such before she ever had any children? This is never explained.) Following that logic, maybe she’d even be over-the-top cautious enough to do something like violently smash the cell phone of her employee (the heaven sent Rebel Wilson) in an attempt to protect her “miracle” from its potentially dangerous emissions. But…I doubt it.
Wendy sort of redeems herself later on in the narrative; her “pregnant lady meltdown” is probably the movie’s best scene. Cameron Diaz’s “Jules,” on the other hand, gets exactly one split second of believability in 110 minutes: The moment during her labor when she cries, “I can’t do it.” Apart from that one tearful admission, it’s all impossibly adorable maternity workout clothes, implausible amounts of energy and looking ridiculously refreshed while on bed rest.
Knocked Up (2007)
There is one very important distinction to make between “Knocked Up” and “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”: “Knocked Up” can be pretty funny at times. Still, that doesn’t mean the Judd Apatow-helmed project is particularly relatable for moms. (Probably fairly relatable for dads, however. Make no mistake – this is a movie made by and for men.) Let’s begin with the moment Katherine Heigl’s “Alison” begins to suspect her drunken one-night stand with “Ben” (Seth Rogen) may have had unintended consequences: She throws up, quite suddenly and violently, during an on-air interview with James Franco (Alison is an entertainment journalist). Why do all surprise pregnancies in movies (this happens to Cameron Diaz in “What to Expect,” too) announce themselves with these incredibly abrupt and dramatic displays of morning sickness? As anyone who’s suffered with morning sickness in real life can tell you, violent puking can certainly happen, but it’s almost never a surprise – it’s more like a form of punctuation to the horrible, constant queasiness you’re feeling all the time anyway. It’s not like, “Hey, where’d that crazy puke attack come from? That sure was some bad timing! Good thing I feel fine now and my hair still looks amazing!”
Then there’s the straight-up ridiculous scene in which Alison and her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) head to the store for a pregnancy test – wait, make that half a zillion pregnancy tests. The sisters go feverishly careening through the aisles, grabbing up nearly all the tests on the shelves, and it’s all very zany and over-the-top and whatnot, but hello?! Those things are expensive!! At roughly $15 a pop, one has to figure Alison and Debbie spent at least several hundred unnecessary bucks on their lunatic shopping trip. Really, $30 would have been more than sufficient.
Once Alison knows she’s having a baby for sure, there are some nice sincere moments of doubt regarding her relationship with Ben and what their future holds. At least she doesn’t have to worry about her professional life, though, because – wouldn’t you know it?! – her boss just loves the idea of putting a pregnant reporter in front of the camera. So not only is her job safe, she’s practically getting a promotion! That’s always how it works out in real life when a woman tells her employer she’s expecting, right ladies? (Especially a woman whose job includes red carpet appearances.)
Nine Months (2005)
It’s a bold claim indeed, but “Nine Months” might be the most offensive pregnancy movie ever – to both moms and dads. (Is it a coincidence that Hugh Grant got busted with a hooker while promoting this shameful stinker? Something to think about.) First of all, when Grant’s “Sam” finds out his girlfriend of 5 years, Julianne Moore (“Rebecca”), is preggers, he reacts so insensitively that it’s impossible not to spend the next hour and a half wondering why in the hell any woman would stay with such a pathetic man child (she does end up leaving him for a brief period of time, but still). This is a guy who takes his Peter Pan complex to insanely unlikable extremes: Pitching a fit about getting rid of his sports car (which can’t accommodate a car seat), fantasizing that Rebecca will turn into a boyfriend-devouring praying mantis. Oh, and did I mention that after 5 years, he didn’t even know for certain whether or not Rebecca was on birth control?! Unfortunately, Rebecca is equally – alarmingly – clueless. When a long overdue make-out session gets thwarted because she feels the baby kick for the first time, Rebecca starts to fret about pregnant sex in general: “What if the baby can see your penis, coming toward it, that could scare the hell out of a baby…or what if your penis hit it in the head, it could cause brain damage.” Or maybe Rebecca is the one with brain damage? I simply can’t think of any other explanation for why a grown woman would have such a limited understanding of her own anatomy. But hey, everything turns out okay in the end, because Sam finds out he’s having a son, which inspires him to man up and read some baby books (“Knocked Up” borrows this device as proof of Ben taking Alison’s pregnancy seriously), and yay, here comes Robin Williams as the bumbling Russian veterinarian-turned-obstetrician! It boils down to this: When Tom Arnold is the most sympathetic character in a pregnancy movie, you’re in trouble.
Baby Mama (2008)
Like “Knocked Up,” this movie at least has some truly funny moments – though, the first time I saw it, I was too turned off by the “all poor people are Tastykake-scarfing morons too stupid to figure out how to open a baby-proofed toilet seat” gimmick to notice the amusing bits. The second time around, I was able to appreciate Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s chemistry – but still couldn’t help rolling my eyes in between laughs. Sure, in the beginning of the movie Fey’s “Kate” is supposed to be suffering from serious baby lust – I get it. But would any self-respecting woman go around sniffing the heads of strangers’ babies in elevators or imagine that the boardroom of adults she’s addressing is really an audience of diaper-clad infants? Then there’s the issue of Poehler’s “Angie” not knowing about her pregnancy until she’s 18 weeks along (well, she’s pretending to be pregnant and Kate thinks she’s pregnant, but still). No symptoms for 18 weeks?! What about the multiple blood and urine tests she would have gone through by that point in her pregnancy? True, the plot wouldn’t have worked without taking some artistic license to the standard prenatal care experience, but come on!
Father of the Bride Part 2 (1995)
Perhaps, to be fair, any movie featuring Martin Short as a prenatal aerobics instructor is too willfully preposterous to be considered offensive, but I’m including it in this list anyway because I once actually heard a human being speak the words: “You know what was really cute? That ‘Father of the Bride’ sequel!” The most distasteful thing about this Steve Martin comedy to me personally is that it’s supposed to be a remake of the unfailingly charming Spencer Tracy classic, “Father’s Little Dividend” (1951), but there’s plenty to find issue with even if you aren’t a fan of the original. As with most pregnancy-centered movies, this one actually revolves around a man’s neurotic freakout induced by his woman’s pregnancy – except, this time, Steve Martin’s “George” is dealing with the pregnancies of two women: His wife Nina and daughter Annie. Because of course they both get knocked up at the same time! And, eventually, go into labor at the same time, too. (One of the most gratingly unrealistic moments in the movie? Annie showing up in the doorway of her parents’ bedroom in the middle of the night, fully dressed, absolutely calm and carrying a suitcase: “It’s time!”) Yes, it’s all about George’s mid-life crisis – forget what the prospect of starting over as a mom when she already has two grown children might be doing to his wife. The women in this movie are nothing more than comedic devices, and while I get that it’s called “Father” of the bride, not “Mother,” this glaring omission still gets under my skin.
I guess the thing that bothers me the most about screenwriters and directors dumbing pregnancy down to make it more palatable is that they're doing their movies, not to mention their audiences, a great disservice in the process. Represented honestly, pregnancy has the potential to be downright hilarious. So what’s the hold-up? I'm not entirely sure, though it most likely has to do with some bigger, misogyny-tinged picture. And we all know nothing related to that particularly picture is likely to change anytime soon. Maybe by the time my daughter is having kids of her own Hollywood will start to catch on.