D: Kris Swanberg / 85m
Cast: Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean, Elizabeth McGovern, Aaron J. Nelson, Tyla Abercrumbie, Audrey Morgan
A teacher at a Chicago inner city high school, Samantha Abbott (Smulders) has a dilemma: what to do when the high school closes in a few months’ time. She thinks she’s found the ideal job to apply for, but then another dilemma presents itself: she finds out she’s pregnant. Terrified by the implications that come with being pregnant, as well as the future responsibilities of being a parent, Samantha doesn’t know what to do. Luckily, her partner, John (Holm), knows exactly what she should do: marry him, and when the baby is born, spend a couple of years as a stay-at-home mother before working again. So, they get married, and Samantha continues to teach. This leads to the discovery that one of her brightest pupils, Jasmine (Bean), is also pregnant. So what is a scared, confused thirty year old teacher to do in such circumstances? The answer is to support Jasmine as much as possible with her college applications, and her pregnancy, while at the same time coping poorly with her own upcoming “blessed event”. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
At first glance, Unexpected appears to be about – yes, you’ve guessed it – being pregnant. However, a closer look reveals that it’s as much about the friendship that develops between Samantha and Jasmine as it is about anything else. Sure, they have pregnancy in common, but it’s how they share their thoughts and feelings about it, and their experiences of being pregnant, that carries the most weight. We see Samantha poring over books on pregnancy, trying desperately to work out if she’s doing it right, seeking approbation, and finding it through her support for Jasmine. Of the two, Jasmine is the more confident mother-to-be, her background and personal situation making her more able to cope with any issues or problems that arise. In many respects, Samantha behaves in a less mature manner than Jasmine does, so much so that when John rebuffs her complaints about not getting the job she wants by telling her to “get over it”, you have to agree with him (though that may not be the response director Kris Swanberg and co-screenwriter Megan Mercier are looking for).
Though the movie does address a number of pregnancy-related issues – finding a college place with a baby in tow, what to do if the father isn’t involved – it does so in a lightweight, easy-going manner that doesn’t allow for much in the way of real drama. Even when Samantha and Jasmine have an inevitable falling out, it’s all done in such a restrained, matter-of-fact way that the entire moment lacks conviction and power. What Swanberg and Mercier have done is to construct a story that plays out in what feels like a very normal fashion, and with mistakes being made by both expectant mothers. It’s a simple approach, one that’s enhanced by two terrific performances from Smulders and Bean, who both display a notable sincerity in their roles, and a thorough understanding of their characters’ emotional make-up (Smulders was actually pregnant during shooting, definitely a happy coincidence). As a slice of life drama it weaves its story with ease, and the comic elements add spice to the mix, making the movie enjoyable if not particularly invigorating. With little or no relevance to the wider world it takes place in, this exercise in female bonding solves its characters’ problems too easily to be wholly effective, but as if to make up for it, is unremittingly charming throughout.
Rating: 7/10 – low-key and thoughtful are two words that spring to mind when thinking about Unexpected, but these are strengths in a movie that avoids any real calamity in case it breaks the mood; inviting popularity with every scene, it’s a movie equivalent of a work-out that doesn’t make you sweat, but which still leaves you feeling good when you’ve finished.