It takes a lot to get me to like a romantic comedy. Of the ones I do like, Steel Magnolias is coming to mind, and that’s due in part to a.) the sarcasm of Olympia Dukakis and b.) the promise of dead Julia Roberts. So when I find a romantic comedy that doesn’t bug the living shit out of me, I consider it a good day. From a feminine perspective, I loved the various emotions that got exposed as part of the pregnancy and childbirth process in What to Expect When You’re Expecting, despite that I desperately wanted to hate it. I loved that there was a character that had a pregnancy from hell; as someone that went through a pregnancy that saw eight months of morning sickness, I was thrilled to death that someone showed an expectant mom struggling, that it’s not all rainbows and magical belly goodness. However – and there’s always a “however” with me – I was irked by the portrait of dads. The concept of fatherhood totally got shafted in this one. Specifically, the Dude Group and the characters Evan and Marco. While the former reinforced the idea that all dads are just lovable morons that are lucky to have still-living children at the end of their watch, the latter two characters tried desperately to get more involved in the pregnancy and were marginalized by a partner.
|I made this face too, dude.|
Let’s start with the Dude Group. While meant to provide comic relief and a dose of honesty, it really came off as portraying the sample of fathers as incompetent buffoons. While it starts off as a support group, it feels more like a non-stop venting session of the worst of fatherhood. We see the henpecked Craig (Thomas Lennon, whom I have loved since The State) declaring of parenthood to a prospective dad, “This is the side where happiness goes to die.” Craig is forced to pronounce his son’s name differently on the sly in order to appease his wife, a woman that points out how attractive other men are in front of him. He declares at one point, “I am a lackluster husband, but an above average father.” Think about that: this guy is so beaten down that he sells himself short on his relationships. It’s one thing to be self-aware: if you know this about yourself, then change it to make your life better. However, in this instance, we see so much social rejection that we can’t help but pity Craig. Craig will never try to be better because he feels he’ll fail at every turn, and that’s just sad. Besides, if the gender roles were flipped, we’d be screaming “asshole” at his partner and friends faster than anyone’s business. As if that’s not bad enough, we also get Vic (Chris Rock), a largely unobservant dad whose quips everyone delights in. He’s got an accident-prone kid that takes more falls than anyone in the movie, which, while I can understand accident-prone, comes off as a stretch for more laughs than the true nature of parenthood. There’s no slow-motion moment that parents experience along the mental lines of, “Oh, shit, I’m not going to catch him in time, that’s going to leave one hell of a bruise.” The audience only sees the presentation of a kid getting into all sorts of trouble as funny, and a reflection that there’s simply nothing the father can do, so just laugh and go along with it. On top of it, there’s a stark gender divide in Vic’s views of parenthood. Vic has such wonderful gems as,”Women pretty much control the baby universe” and “When your wife says you’re looking at a house, you’re buying a house.” While it’s nice to see women getting some recognition as leaders, well, it feels uncomfortable with the way it’s phrased. The implication is that you must do as your wife says at all times lest you upset the applecart. I’m not a follower of the “happy wife, happy life” mantra – I think it should be a partnership, and like it or not, there will be times when neither of you is thrilled to death. You don’t always get your way, and you don’t get to pitch a tantrum when your spouse says no. So this type of phrasing makes me uneasy because it implies that women run the house and family with zero input from the menfolk, which goes against every shred of equality that we’ve fought for. We want to be equals, not dictators, and this representation isn’t helping.
|Not doing the stereotypes any favors.|
The Dude group also worships Davis (Joe Manganiello), the guy who represents what they all want: to be the stereotype of a man’s man. Davis is that chiseled, attractive (to most – sorry, gang, not digging Joe) man that lands the hot babes and travels the world without a care. He’s got a cool job and no nagging wife or crying children to drag him down. Davis represents the glory days for the Dudes. Davis, though, tells them, ” You guys are the ones living the real dream.” Davis wants children, and comes to the group for aid when he learns that he’s a father. When Vic tells him to walk with them, he exclaims, “But I run!” Here’s the thing: any parent will tell you that you need your running shoes on. Walking is a thing of the past. As soon as your kids start moving, get your sneakers on because those little people move fast.
When Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) calls the group out on their venting and how miserable they all seem, they all proclaim that they love their lives, especially their children. I don’t know about anyone else, but I wasn’t entirely convinced of this. This is in complete conflict with the messages they’ve sent earlier. I get venting about stress, but at some points, the subtle actions – the tough-guy hero-worship, the complaining about partners, the low self-esteem – seem to say unhappiness. There was not one nice thing said about fatherhood up until Alex’s anxiety about becoming a dad came to a head. To brush it all off as a “yeah, but we didn’t mean it” vibe felt cheap to me, and really pissed me off. I didn’t like that they presented themselves as a joke. Dads are allowed to feel anxious, scared and stressed. Own it. These guys didn’t own it.
On the flipside of this, we have Evan (Matthew Morrison) and Marco (Chase Crawford), both prospective fathers that get lost in the shuffle. Evan is a dad that tries very hard to be an active part of his child’s life and is met with hostility, while Marco attempts to be as supportive as he can during an unplanned pregnancy. I can honestly say that I know more Evans and Marcos than I do Dudes: the guy who goes to every appointment, wants to make decisions together, and is simultaneously scared and genuinely pumped for the experience. However, the partner each gets paired with is a woman that treats his experience as an afterthought. Evan is paired with Jules (Cameron Diaz), who comes off as a micromanaging beast (which is just as unfair to the audience, as it stereotypes women who love their career into this category). Evan is constantly overridden in his desires for the pregnancy: when he wants a delivery room gender surprise, he’s told,”The pregnancy was surprise enough.” When there’s friction over the possibility of circumcision and his partner’s unwillingness to slow down, he’s met with proclamations of, “Sometimes I think this might be so much easier if I did this by myself.” What’s his response when Jules goes into early labor? He flies to be by her side and tells her, “I don’t want to be right, I don’t want to win. I just want our baby to be safe.” THIS GUY. I am lucky enough to know more men that think like this. Now here’s where I get upset: instead of having a moment where the character Jules grows and learns how to compromise, the script suddenly has her delivering a baby girl, thereby removing the circumcision issue. What happens from there? She names the baby herself and then asks if it’s okay. This character has learned nothing when there was a chance to demonstrate that couples can indeed compromise on important issues. Very poor writing there. And Marco? Yeah, while he was visibly crushed when his partner miscarried, we never once got to see what he was feeling. This was a missed opportunity, because there’s still taboo when it comes to the subject of miscarriage. Women are starting to feel less ashamed and are talking about it more and more, but it’s still difficult. It would have been nice to have rounded out the discussion with how the father feels during this. I’ve talked with dads that have gone through miscarriages, and they often feel that they can’t voice their sorrow, despite that they’re broken from the experience. The fact that these men have lost a child as well shouldn’t be ignored, and pushing Marco’s experience completely to the side made me cringe because it was a wasted opportunity to talk about something that still has a way to go in terms of holding less social stigma.
|Missed opportunity right there.|
Where does this leave us? To be honest, I’m not sure. This movie certainly tried to frame male parenthood in a comical manner, but it came off as so much complaint that I felt like it was a thinly-veiled rage fest while longing for the good ol’ days. On the other hand, we did get a few examples of a dad that wanted to be pesent, that wanted to be part of the important decisions and that wanted to support his partner in any way he could. Those dads got overruled and belittled any chance they could, whether via strong personality archetype or the need to demonstrate a grieving mother. This cinematic treatment isn’t fair to fathers. They can make mistakes, feel scared and embrace the unknown of the experience; so do moms. They’re allowed. But we need to stop pretending that dads are only there for comic relief, and that only women know what they’re doing. That sells both genders short, and it’s a social concept that needs to change. The dads out there deserve better than what they got in this film.