expecting (2003)


director: deborah day

valerie buhagiar, deb mcgrath, barbara radecki

The marathon home-birth that brings together all of the characters in Deborah Day’s lo-fi comedy Expecting is assumed to be magic and inspirational, the sort of beautiful event that’s supposed to override all of the conflict and tensions festering between the disparate little urban ensemble Day has brought together.

At the center is Stephanie, a very pregnant “performance artist” of the rather retro sort beloved by movies, whose briefly-glimpsed art involves drums, pseudo-tribal costumes and bare breasts. As played by Valerie Buhagiar, Stephanie is introduced as the sort of earthy, natural person we’re meant to trust implicitly, especially when she’s contrasted with her uptight, childless, control freak older sister Anita (Deb McGrath).

Stephanie is painted as naturally maternal, unlike her best friend Dani (Barbara Radecki), sexy, skinny, flaky, and in love with Anita’s unhappy husband Jack (Karl Pruner). Hovering outside her circle of female friends are three men, wussy Gary (a remarkably restrained Colin Mochrie), rich and spiritual Ian (Tom Melissis) ,Stephanie’s live-in boyfriend, and Azaan (Derwin Jordan), her artistic collaborator, a Tanzanian (strangely lacking any accent) who’s heading home shortly for an arranged marriage. Any of these men could be the father, but not even Stephanie knows for sure.

When the contractions begin, she insists on bringing them all together to share the magic of her child’s birth, regardless of the tensions festering among the group. We’re supposed to identify with Stephanie, and Day does everything to tilt the film in her favour, but it’s hard to sympathize with a woman whose desire to play queen bee presumes so much on her friends and family.

If Buhagiar could have made Stephanie something more than a depressingly familiar drama queen, it might have worked. But in the end it’s hard not to sympathize with her sister’s brusque common sense, and to empathize with the abrupt exits of Ian and Jack, two unmistakably put-upon men, from the film’s carefully constructed, but ultimately overbearing and irresponsible, pageant of bogus self-actualization.