Director Kirk Jones’ hilarious and often tender What To Expect When You're Expecting, based on Heidi Murkoff’s authoritative “pregnancy bible” of the same name, stars Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Jennifer Lopez and Anna Kendrick as expectant mothers trying to plunge through nine months of childbearing wilderness. Each of them is put through a series of physical and emotional obstacles ranging from morning sickness to unemployment, but what awaits all except one of them (oops, SPOILER!) is an adorable, smiling bundle of joy that makes it all worth it. Right?

Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. True to its source material, What To Expect is frank about the numerous land mines a woman must dodge to arrive safely on the other side of parenthood. What it adds, surprisingly and with wit rivaling last year’s Bridesmaids, is an uproarious sense of frank, light-hearted humor — the kind necessary for anyone crazy, stupid or crazy enough to sign the remainder of his or her adult life over to raising children. The film also adds plenty of hotlist celebrity eye candy. Moms in the audience (or moms-to-be, or dads, or … whoever) will love marveling at the genetic miracles known as Chace Crawford, Rodrigo Santoro, Joe Manganiello, Dennis Quaid and Matthew Morrison, who play expectant fathers.

But the pretty people in What To Expect leave the comedic heavy-lifting to other stars, particularly scene-stealer Rebel Wilson, who played Kristen Wiig’s awkwardly intrusive roommate in the aforementioned Bridesmaids. This time around, Wilson’s role — as the well-intentioned doofus assistant, Janice — is more heartwarming but no less hysterical. Whether she’s describing how she added a picture to a baby shower invitation (“I stole it from the Internet”) or issuing the most tellingly sincere compliment she can muster (“Wow, she's like a magical pregnancy unicorn"), Janice keeps us clutching our chests with laughter and pity. Hers is one of the most well-played clown roles I’ve seen in a romantic comedy since Melissa McCarthy in (third time, I know) Bridesmaids.

Wilson may have been my favorite, but even without her What To Expect would have surpassed my expectations in the funny department, thanks to some clever writing by screenplay duo Shauna Cross and Heather Hach. If you watch the trailer, you’ll be introduced to The Dudes’ Group, a band of stroller-pushing, sling-wearing, sippy cup-carrying dads lead by the inimitable Chris Rock. What could have been a stale rom-com gimmick steeped in gender norm clichés (“dads are not as good at parenting as moms,” etc.) is actually an ingenious instrument for this particular book-to-screen adaptation, as The Dudes’ Group serves almost like a Greek chorus rehearsing and commenting on the foibles of less sagacious newlydads. And what smart casting, too — centralizing Rock, a fool's wise man, among comic actors Thomas Lennon, Rob Huebel and Amir Talai.

Finally, I can’t wrap this up without giving kudos to Elizabeth Banks, who plays our beloved heroine, the desperately maternal Wendy. I thought Banks was resplendent as Effie Trinket in this year’s The Hunger Games, and I’ve liked her ever since her brief but memorable turn in 2002’s Catch Me If You Can. Banks has probably always possessed that electrifying combination of edgy lunacy and model femininity (think Parker Posey meets June Cleaver), but not many Hollywood roles seem to be written for actresses with such range. Over the course of 110 minutes, Banks takes Wendy to Hell and back in a characteristically subtle and winning performance that bears resemblance to Wendy’s own struggle to “make a human,” as she says. Her summation? “They say when it’s over you forget everything…. God, I hope so!”

For anyone who’s ever had a baby, run a marathon, written a book, started a business or embarked on a risky and patient endeavor, those words will ring painfully true.

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