Pregnancies, especially in films, have an insidious way of popping up at the most inconvenient moments. The results could either be comedic, a la Knocked Up, or horrific, as in Rosemary’s Baby. Or it could be a comically awkward teen story that is supposed to double as a cautionary tale and a coming-of-age story. Or maybe that one just applies to Juno. Either way, this story has been told many times before, and Unexpected does not reinvent the wheel in this case. Luckily, what it does is refine the wheel to make the journey along this over-treaded road a refreshingly smooth one.
Samantha’s (Cobie Smulders) morning routine is simple. She gets ready, drops off her long-time boyfriend John (Anders Holm) at a train station, and then heads to her job in a public school as a science teacher. Her routine changes when she finds out she will be losing her job in a couple of weeks and having a baby in several months, and when she learns that her prize pupil is also pregnant and unsure about whether she will continue her education after high school. Naturally, she responds how most of us would and begins focusing on her student, Jasmine (Gail Bean), as a way to procrastinate on having to make actual decisions for herself. Both of their ambitious plans for the future have now been put into question because of their unplanned pregnancies, but their quickly developing bond, despite their different circumstances, will help them reach their final decisions.
Unexpected plays with the notion of how two people in outwardly similar situations are actually vastly different. It takes a look at socioeconomic differences, cultural comparisons, and both race and white privilege. Unfortunately, it only grazes most of these deeper topics, when it could have picked one and explored it further. It even mentions the state of Chicago’s public education system, but keeps it vague when it could expound on the greater effects it has on the communities. This is not that type of film. Instead of showing the disparity and focusing on what sets these two individuals apart, it uses their relationship to explore how much they have in common as human beings living together in an unforgiving world.
The relationship between Smulders and Bean, and the catalyst of an unexpected pregnancy, is what truly kickstarts the film’s progression. What keeps the film on track and builds its gentle momentum are the subtle, but genuine performances of Smulders and Bean. Their interactions, even the most seemingly menial ones, keep us enthralled and invested in the story and the outcome of the characters. In the end, that is all this film has to command the audience’s attention.
Director/Co-writer and Chicago native Kris Swanberg develops the earnest performances to fit two everyday people you are likely to encounter in Chicago. This realism is reflected in the writing and acting, with both coming off as unforced and natural. Swanberg appears to be at home in her roles as well, delivering a story of an everyday struggle faced in major metropolitan cities around the world. The story is not a fresh one, but Swanberg’s humble take on it lets the story flow effortlessly through honest interactions between the two leads.
While Unexpected doesn’t actively pursue a greater conversation on race and privilege, or even the state of Chicago’s education system, it does spark a conversation. Swanberg makes use of her familiar surroundings, and her very adept cast, to craft a story about sisterhood that goes beyond the borders of race and politics and into the intrinsic responsibilities of the community we are all a part of: humanity.
RATING: ★★★★★★ (6/10 stars)