Starring Cobie Smulders, Gail Bean, Anders Holm, Elizabeth Mcgovern
Don’t judge a movie by its poster, because if you do, you will never choose Kris Swanberg’s loosely autobiographical new film Unexpected. The best way to sum up the irony of Unexpected, is to tell you our lead character says the “F” word the moment she discovers she is pregnant. It isn’t just the unexpected pregnancy that lends itself to the title, it’s the friendship between an inner Chicago city teacher and a promising graduating senior, also pregnant. After seeing Smulders create an entirely new, unreferenced female character earlier this year in Results, I was eager to see The Avengers actress continue to develop her independent film talent and she doesn’t disappoint.
This last term of the semester will be the last term forever at one inner city Illinois school, as its being shut down. Already faced with finding a new job, Samantha Abbott (Smulders) discovers she is pregnant. She and longtime boyfriend John (Holm) quickly get married and prepare to become a family. Simultaneously Samantha’s best biology student Jasmine (Bean) discovers her own pregnancy, fathered by her current boyfriend which creates a huge obstacle for her college ambitions. The two women become very close while Samantha tries to push Jasmine toward a promising university. Yet it’s Jasmine’s focus on the welfare of her baby that ends up being the life lesson for Samantha.
"Stating the obvious here, but Smulders does the best work of her cinematic career making Samantha feel so relatable and honest."
Unexpected tackles many things, however what I found most interesting was the lead character’s struggle to regain her individuality. “I don’t want to just be known as a wife and mother,” she says in one of the many arguments with John about whether or not she will apply for jobs as soon as the baby arrives. Smulders gives a refreshing take on pregnancy as her character discovers an entirely new side of herself. The naiveté and vulnerability cycle she experiences are written so personally and intimate. Stating the obvious here, but Smulders does the best work of her cinematic career making Samantha feel so relatable and honest.
It’s also the friendship that is unexpected: teacher/student, black/white, welfare/middleclass, married/unmarried. Bean is also excellent in the role and the tiny moments where Samantha looks down on Jasmine are left open for the viewer to analyze as they are never specifically addressed. For example in one scene Samantha asks Jasmine if she has thought about her options (meaning abortion and adoption), she replies yes, that she will keep the baby. Jasmine quips back at her, “Have you decided what you are going to do?” she returns the notion. “I’m going to keep it also,” Samantha chuckles.
Socially relevant, well-acted and manages to find new ground in particularly saturated subject matter.