Monday, January 18, 2010

What to Expect When Hollywood Takes On Pregnancy

I probably don't have to explain why this is making pregnancy and birth advocates everywhere chase down their rolling eyeballs, but Lionsgate Films is actually planning to make "What to Expect When You're Expecting" yes, the instructional anxiety manual - into a feature film. (Here's just one example of why this book turns so many stomachs.)

Some are surprised to hear this, but honestly, given the celebrity baby obsession that constantly graces the tabloid covers, I'm actually not. Annoyed, and expecting the worst, yes, but not surprised. I suppose it was just a matter of time before Hollywood tried to capitalize on this more directly. I'm ONLY surprised the almost-as-irritating "Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy" (or perhaps even more irritating, depending on your POV) didn't get picked up first.

And, as The Feminist Breeder aptly points out in her comment on the article above, it's also possible that the publishers of the book have been seeing sales lagging, given the growing alternatives to their "classic" worst-case-scenario book, so this is as much a business move on their end as anything else. They point blank say as much in the article itself:
"We feel Heidi's book provides the perfect launching point to tell a funny and poignant story and start a wonderful franchise using this iconic and beloved brand," the upcoming film's producers said. "Heather [the screenwriter] has crafted a great tale, full of rich characters."
Ah, not just a measly little movie, but a franchise! Goody. So of course, the publishers must be thrilled. They've been putting out more and more variations on their original theme for a while now, not just the subsequent baby and toddler care books, but also with "Eating Well When You're Expecting" and "What to Expect Before You're Expecting" and who knows what else they'll come up with in time for movie tie-ins. They've been revamping the cover portrait of prematernal bliss over the years, from this:

To this:

And now this:

But obviously more drastic measures were needed. Thus, Hollywood, and whatever hackneyed jumble of cliches they're liable to come up with. I predict variations upon some if not all of the following elements: a childbirth class where the instructor is portrayed as a whacked-out hippie, breastfeeding advocates portrayed as shrieking harridans, the mother deciding to try to "go natural", then begging for the epidural (and possibly then told "Too late!", the message clearly being, you silly naive little thing, you should have just shut up and gotten it when we first offered), scenes of the father being hapless under pressure and nauseated by some aspect of the birth itself, and, of course, the doctor being the hero who saves the day. I'm sure the tone will be some combination of "He's Just Not That Into You", "Baby Mama", and "The Exorcist".

Let me take this moment to once again direct you to "Laboring Under An Illusion", an examination of how mass media portrayals of childbirth have affected us as a culture. I wrote about it a bit back here. (For my local peeps, we're going to be featuring this in our upcoming ICAN Birth Film Festival in April - more on that in the future.) I hope the makers of this film do even more promotion to offset whatever this "What to Expect" project unleashes.

Putting a fun spin on the news, Public Health Doula is holding a contest to see who can come up with the best plot proposal (the winner gets a copy of the new "Our Bodies, Ourselves"). Click on over to share your predictions/improvements/satire!

Kind of makes me want to rekindle my latent writerly ambitions and write my own danged screenplay. Seriously, I think the story of a woman seeking a VBAC and finding her way to midwifery, for just one example among scores of them, is as loaded with genuine drama and relevance as any great film out there. Maybe not a "franchise", but a moving, inspiring, and powerful journey. If *I* don't do it, I sure hope someone does.


  1. After last week's drama - and now this - I'm convinced that the easiest way to get a book or movie deal is to sell your soul to the "birth-as-a-business" devil. Don't you understand, Anne, that if you start marketing yourself as an epidural pushing, cesarean selling, anti-doula-doula, you will have publishers beating down your door!

  2. I know you're right. Yet stories like yours, and Lindsey's, and Alexandra Orchard's are the ones American audiences really need to see!

  3. Well, at least the latest WTE cover has a SMILING mom on it. The older two look like they've just realized what a grim, perilous journey they're about to embark on, fraught with strangling umbilical cords, episiotomies and enormous 8 lb. babies that shatter their teeny tiny pelvises.

  4. Lollerskates, Jill! It's so, so true!

  5. Bah - Jill beat me to it! I was just going to post on how miserable the women on the first two covers look. What am image to sell!

  6. Ugh, are you kidding me?!?! A movie? I have this book, and I'm not even interesting in reading it.

  7. This is an awful book. It will be even a worse movie. Yet when informative documentaries are made about birth like "The Business of Being Born," they are given "controversial" reviews and are portrayed as back-woods birthing. No wonder I hardly see any movies anymore!

  8. I visited the publisher of this crap, Workman, while in grad school. I was taking a course on book publishing and my professor had a connection to Workman. His brother was Dr. Eiger, the guy who co-wrote The Complete Book of Breastfeeding. Everyone I met there was so nice and it's a tiny, tiny place, even with the success they've had with Heidi's books and others, they are pretty small in the publishing world. I know it's tough now for publishers so I can't say I'm surprised that they'd option the right to the book, although it's annoying.