What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Slew of Copycat Rom-Com Life Manual Adaptations
With He’s Just Not That Into You and now Think Like a Man, the film industry has seen that it can make money from mining the nonfiction section of the New York Times best-seller list to fuel the romantic-comedy genre. Imaginary rough-but-sensitive Irish men, you are no longer needed! This week brings the opening of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, a book spawned from the terror that author Heidi Murkoff and her husband felt about parenthood, which basically details every awful thing that can happen during a pregnancy. The big-screen adaptation is an overstuffed rom-com about five interconnected couples getting ready to have their first babies. (It also apparently features Chris Rock’s PG-13 version of #realtalk.) Though the reviews haven’t been good, What to Expect is the summer’s first overt nod to female moviegoers, and the source material is basically a starter’s guide for a large section of this country’s parents, so it’s likely it will perform well enough.
With that precedent set, here are four more nonfiction life manuals, some more expected than others, that seem ripe for rom-comicizing, plus a head start for Hollywood in imagining how it could be done.
The New Jewish Wedding, by Anita Diamant
What the Book Is About: A guide to incorporating Jewish traditions into modern, progressive weddings.
Plot of the Rom-Com Version: A soon-to-be groom (played by Jason Schwartzman) has become apathetic toward his faith, but in anticipation of their marriage, his shiksa future wife (played by Blake Lively) decides to convert and enthusiastically takes to Judaism. Along the way they must (hilariously) explore questions of love and faith with the help of co-stars including a new age rabbi (played by Better Midler), her lesbian life partner (played by Lily Tomlin), the groom’s assimilated father (played by Billy Crystal), and the groom’s high school best friend, who has turned Orthodox, but hasn’t lost his dirty mouth (played by Jonah Hill).
Montage Sequence and the Song That Soundtracks It: The groom is dragged through a series of faith-building exercises alongside other newly engaged Jewish couples as “To Life” from the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack plays.
Opportunity for a Scene Involving a Food Truck: The young couple pay a visit to one of the rabbi’s former star pupils, played by Demetri Martin, the owner of a truck that serves kosher nouveau Jewish comfort food like gefilte fish sliders with horseradish aioli. Feelings of inadequacy in Schwartzman’s character smolder.
Food Matters, by Mark Bittman
What the Book Is About: How the industrialization of the food system is damaging the health of the planet and the human population, and how personal changes can lessen the impact.
Plot of the Rom-Com Version: Drew Barrymore plays a beloved food educator in Seattle, helping schools integrate healthier practices into their cafeterias and curriculum. She quickly butts heads with a tough love-espousing principal of a troubled middle school, played by Vince Vaughn, who proudly hasn’t eaten a vegetable in 30 years and thinks his students have bigger issues to contend with than their diet. After Vaughn suffers chest pains, he makes a deal with Barrymore: If she can get him healthy, she can implement her programs in his school. Together, the two learn that love grows organically. (Over the course of the film, a puffy Vaughn drops down to his Lost World weight, but not his Swingers weight.)
Montage Sequence and the Song That Soundtracks It: The two engage in light, non-verbal flirting while planting the school’s edible garden with a group of adorable students, set to “Fruitman” by Kool and the Gang.
Opportunity for a Scene Involving a Food Truck: On their first “it’s not a date” date — as Barrymore tells her dour assistant, played by Aubrey Plaza — the pair go to an outdoor screening of Ratatouille at Magnuson Park and eat at the food trucks. He wants a pulled-pork sandwich, she tricks him into eating falafel.
The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Dr. Harvey Karp
What the Book Is About: Techniques on how to comfort crying babies in their earliest days, and a reconsideration of why babies cry as much as they do.
Plot of the Rom-Com Version: Three pairs of culturally clashing couples living on the same street in Philadelphia’s Art Museum neighborhood are all expecting their first kids at the same time (what a coincidence!). There’s Rashida Jones and Jason Bateman as research-obsessed yuppies, Laura Allen and Ted Danson as a May-December pairing of intellectuals, and the independently wealthy bohemian Mila Kunis and her English artist impregnator Kit Harington (Jon Snow from Game of Thrones). But after their babies are born, each of their idealized visions of child-rearing are displaced by the reality of a post-fetal flesh sack now living in their homes that only knows how to poop and scream. With their sanity and relationships pushed to the brink, the couples finagle a visit from baby expert Dr. Harvey Karp, played by Jon Hamm in “goofily charming” mode, whose advice helps them get their lives on track and realize why they became parents in the first place.
Montage Sequence and the Song That Soundtracks It: A first night back from the hospital domestic horror show for all three families, set to “Cry Like a Baby” by the Box Tops.
Opportunity for a Scene Involving a Food Truck: The unmarried couple played by Kunis and Harington decide to go ahead with their unplanned pregnancy after a stop at the Buttercream cupcake truck.
The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss
What the Book Is About: A system of Lifestyle Design filled with time-management and work-avoidance techniques that aims to make you, the reader, a member of the New Rich.
Plot of the Rom-Com Version: James Franco plays Tim Ferriss, an iconoclastic self-help guru enjoying a skyrocketing career and a legion of Silicon Valley acolytes. He seems to have it all: millions of dollars, willing women, the ability to experience the best the world has to offer, and everything else he promises in his books and seminars. But after colliding with a harried and lonely single mother, played by Penelope Cruz, and her precocious son, played by Modern Family’s Rico Rodriguez, he realizes that what’s missing from his life is someone to share it with. Also, the title should be changed to something vague like There’s Always Time.
Montage Sequence and the Song That Soundtracks It: Slow-motion images of Ferriss scuba diving, swinging kettlebells, dancing in tango competitions, boarding planes on exotic runways, and cultivating selective ignorance over Drake’s “The Motto (clean edit).”
Opportunity for a Scene Involving a Food Truck: Cruz’s character’s father, played by Cheech Marin, sells the best carne asada in San Francisco’s Mission District out of his taco truck. Unfortunately, he’s losing all his business to a soulless upstart gourmet truck run by two of Ferriss’s disciples, played by Josh Gad and Rainn Wilson. In the film’s meet-cute scenario, Cruz’s character has to manage her father’s business one day while he has a meeting at the bank, and she crashes the truck into Ferriss’s Tesla Roadster.
Eric Ducker is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @mrducker.