“A solid and sweet parallel tale of two pregnant women.”
A pregnant high school teacher and her similarly pregnant student become besties in Unexpected, a film by director and co-writer Kris Swanberg. With lots of heart and tenderness, the movie explores the qualms and pressures of unanticipated pregnancy and the parallels that mirror two seemingly different women.
Samantha Abbot (Cobie Smulders), a middle-class white woman, is a high school science teacher in a poor Chicago neighborhood. With the school closing down at the end of the year, Sam sets her eyes on landing a job at the Field Museum of Natural History devising a new science curriculum for the city school system. However, a complication happens. At thirty, she becomes pregnant with her live-in boyfriend John (Anders Holm). John welcomes the news and proposes immediately, leading to their marriage at the City Hall within days. While John is ecstatic and her nagging mother Carolyn (Elizabeth McGovern) is lackadaisical, Sam is quite apprehensive of her life when their baby girl comes.
Meanwhile, Jasmine (Gail Bean) is Sam’s African-American 18-year old student. Being one of the best students in the class, she dreams of going to college, particularly to the University of Illinois. But her dream is jeopardized when she learns she is pregnant with her boyfriend Travis (Aaron Nelson). Despite realizing that Travis is quite nonchalant and immature, Jasmine decides to proceed with her pregnancy and keep the child.
Soon, the two women connect and start spending time together, attending prenatal yoga classes, spoiling their food cravings and sharing preggie notes. Their teacher-student relationship develops into a real friendship. As they grapple with their pregnancy, they must also go through very rough decisions and sacrifices.
At first glance, Unexpected appears too simplistic with its universal story. It is small in scope with no twist in its plot. Yet, its straightforward narrative is intelligently structured with solid and likable characters. We have Samantha who is torn between staying home with her baby and pursuing her career. In her desire of reconciling her aspirations, she becomes patronizing and controlling over Jasmine. Like her, Jasmine is torn between two options – going to the prestigious university or staying near at home for her baby. In her compassion, Sam becomes blind to Jasmine’s economic struggles. Both women are also in the dilemma of losing their identity in exchange for an unexpected one. However, such realities are approached with practicality and factual fashion in the film. It is natural and properly observed, with relationships feeling genuine and touching.
The film also triumphs with the stirring yet graceful performance of its cast. Stepping out of her Marvel films supporting roles, Smulders brings the intelligence, poise and heart of Samantha. Yet, she shows vulnerability and gentleness in her self-assuring persona. She may be a newcomer in the business but Bean also delivers a flawless romance. She has both quiet dignity and immense energy, required for the youthful and promising Jasmine. Together, Smulders and Bean illustrate a charming rapport that draws you into the film from beginning to end.
Unexpected, with its simple narrative and lack of surprises, is unexpectedly beautiful. It is sweet and affecting, moving confidently at perfect stride and emotions. It feels real and unforced, and the brilliant and engaging performance of the actors further solidifies its integrity and credibility.