Unexpected (2015)

Unexpected (2015)
  • Time: 90 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Kris Swanberg
  • Cast: Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean


An inner-city high school teacher discovers she is pregnant at the same time as one of her most promising students and the two develop an unlikely friendship while struggling to navigate their unexpected pregnancies.

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  • This is not how thirty-year-old Sam (Cobie Smulders) imagined two of the most important milestones in her life would come about. She’s about to lose her job as a science teacher at an inner-city Chicago high school due to the school closing down when she discovers she is pregnant. Her live-in boyfriend John (Anders Holm) proposes marriage over pancakes. Assured that he’s not doing this only because of the impending baby, Sam agrees and they marry in a civil ceremony.

    Sam seems to have everything she needs – not the least of which is the ultra-supportive John, who tells her he’ll float them financially so she can stay home with the baby – but she’s overwhelmed with doubt and anxiety. Her mother’s reaction – disappointment at learning that not only is Sam married and pregnant, but intending to remain home with the baby as her master’s degree gathers dust – compounds Sam’s fears. “These are supposed to be happy things,” she tells her mother. “But they’re not happening in a happy way,” her mother responds.

    Sam’s mother is played by Elizabeth McGovern, who went through somewhat similar travails in director John Hughes’ 1988 comedy, She’s Having a Baby. Smulders bears such a striking resemblance to McGovern that not only could one believe they were daughter and mother, but that Unexpected could be viewed as a slight spiritual descendant of Hughes’ film. As written and directed by Kris Swanberg, Unexpected is an inversion of She’s Having a Baby. Where McGovern’s pregnancy was the jumping off point for onscreen husband Kevin Bacon to get his life sorted out, Sam’s pregnancy throws into question her identity as a woman in her own right.

    The beauty of Swanberg’s delicately calibrated film is that Sam is not boxed into one dimension as a character. Too often women are depicted as career women who look down upon stay-at-home moms or stay-at-home moms who chide career women for not espousing the profession of motherhood as the most challenging and rewarding. For Sam and her student Jasmine (Gail Bean), herself undergoing an unplanned pregnancy, it is not necessarily an either-or situation. Sam wants to devote her time to motherhood, but she struggles with the idea of not working. Jasmine wants to go to college, but what college is going to accept a pregnant teen? Or, more specifically, a pregnant teen who is black and who comes from a low-income home?

    The women’s friendship may be convenient and skewed more towards Sam, whose concern over and support of Jasmine’s situation can be taken as a form of distraction from her own predicament. Yet Swanberg and co-writer Megan Mercier take care to present a multi-layered relationship between two fully formed characters, both of whom understand the difficulties they are about to embrace. That Sam avoids being seen as a white woman lamenting over middle-class problems is a credit not only to the filmmakers, but to Smulders’ finely nuanced performance.

    Smulders is well-matched by Bean, whose Jasmine recognises Sam’s privilege without letting it get in the way of listening to her advice. Jasmine has overcome many a hardship, including her own mother’s neglect, and Ben plays the reveal of this with remarkable dignity.

    Beautifully realised, warmly observed, and wholly unpretentious, Unexpected is a terrific piece of work that deserves to be sought out and seen.

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