Many times Hollywood came calling, wanting to make her book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” into a movie. But Heidi Murkoff said “Huh?”
It’s a best seller, yes, with some 40 million copies in four editions in print. But it’s a self-help book, packed with answers to the burning questions a lot of pregnant women and their husbands ask. Murkoff, 53, didn’t see a movie in that.
“These movie pitches never survived my gut check,” Murkoff says. She was waiting for somebody who “got it,” that “What to Expect” is “not just a how-to book on pregnancy. It’s about the emotional connection that parents-to-be share, that crosses every socio-economic line, every cultural line, around the world. We all experience conflicted feelings of happiness and trepidation ...
“I wanted to see a movie that shows the universality of the experience, the way ‘Love Actually’ shows the universality of love.”
Now, 28 years after the first edition ― written by new mom Murkoff with the help of her mom and her sister ― there is a movie. The producers made a romantic comedy out of it.
“What could be more romantic than starting a family?” Murkoff says. And, Murkoff adds, “pregnancy is funny. Not to you, maybe, while you’re pregnant. But later. With PERSPECTIVE.”
One of the film’s stars, Elizabeth Banks, backs her up: “There’s something about the loss of dignity, loss of control and loss of control of your bowel movements that is ― just ― funny.”
“What to Expect” stars Banks, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Anna Kendrick and Brooklyn Decker, and follows five couples ― one adopting, one finally pregnant after years of trying, a couple of accidental pregnancies, and an annoying supermodel (Decker) who has the most problem-free pregnancy in history. The women cope with the shocks to their systems, the men (Chris Rock leads a “dudes group”) just cope. The couples, each in their own way, prepare.
But it’s also about “There’s no such THING as ‘ready,’” as Chris Rock’s veteran dad declares. “You just jump on a moving train, and DIE.”
Murkoff laughs at that. Rock, a father in real life, has “this great daddytude,”she says, coining a word. “I call myself a ‘dadvocate,’” she says, coining another. “Aside from breast-feeding, there’s nothing that a mom can do that a dad can’t do just as well ... It truly is a partnership. Our first meetings about the movie, I said ‘Dads have to be a major part of this, and not just as walking cliches, stereotypes of the dad who faints in the delivery room.”
Evan (Matthew Morrison) and Jules (Cameron Diaz) star in ”What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” (Melissa Moseley/MCT)
It all goes back to the early 1980s, when Murkoff conceived her first born, and conceived her book. She went hunting for contemporary literature on pregnancy and found more questions than answers.
“I became a mom on a mission. Two hours before I went into labor, I delivered the book proposal for ‘What to Expect.’”
The rest is history and now a major motion picture.
No, Murkoff herself isn’t in it, though after seeing the way Steve Harvey was integrated into the film of his best seller, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man,” she may be kicking herself. But there is Wendy, Banks’ character, a pregnancy expert finally having her first baby. Though Banks says “I wasn’t thinking of her as Heidi” while filming “What to Expect,” Murkoff sees the resemblance.
“I am a bit of a micro-manager,” like Wendy, Murkoff admits. “She represents most pregnant women in America today. She feels she’s in control of her life, because these days, we’re not raised to be moms. We’re raised for careers.
“And then, you pee on a stick and you realize you’ve just lost control of EVERYTHING. Not just your body, not just your emotions.”
As Wendy says in a big meltdown moment in the film, she’d always thought “pregnancy’s glow is made from two scoops of angel’s kisses,” when the reality is “‘backne,’ purple stretch marks and constipation.”
“If you’ve been pregnant, you’ve wanted to have that meltdown,” Murkoff says. “We all want to shout from the rooftops. ‘I’m pregnant as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore! I’m tired of being tired, tired of the ‘backne.’”
Every actress in the film played against “type” in that they were characters going through something they themselves had not. Lopez, who had twins, adopts in the film. And Banks, 38, who experiences every misery associated with being with child, had hers through a surrogate in real life. But one thing they all shared, Banks says, was the “surprise” that having a baby delivers. She and her husband did not know the baby’s sex before her son was born.
“I never, ever realized how adorable little boys can be,” she says.
Murkoff, who has built an empire of books, websites and now major motion pictures out of her search for answers, has the same hopes for the film that she had for the book ― that couples will experience it together.
“All the stuff that they have to build into Hollywood movies ― the drama, the humor, the emotional conflicts, relationship struggles, embarrassing moments ― those are already built into pregnancy.
“You do not have to contrive them.”
By Roger Moore
(McClatchy-Tribune News Service)
(MCT Information Services)