By Don Simpson | July 24, 2015
Director: Kris Swanberg
Writers: Kris Swanberg, Megan Mercier
Starring: Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean, Elizabeth McGovern
Functioning as a heartfelt companion piece to Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas, Kris Swanberg uses Unexpected as an outlet to give her own perspective on how her life was changed by her pregnancy with their son Jude.
Unexpected tells the story of Sam (Cobie Smulders), a 30-year-old inner-city high school science teacher who finds herself unexpectedly knocked-up. Being able to afford the baby is not necessarily an issue; Sam’s live-in boyfriend, John (Anders Holm), makes it clear that he is up for supporting their family financially. The problem is that at age 30, Sam does not know if she is ready to abandon her career or independence in order to raise a child.
None of Sam’s friends are mothers yet, so the person she finds the most in common with is a 17-year-old student, Jasmine (Gail Bean). That said, Jasmine’s circumstances could not be more different than Sam’s. On the cusp of graduating high school with a 3.8 GPA, Jasmine will have to sacrifice a great opportunity to go away to good college with a financial aid package. Jasmine has no intentions of giving up her baby, which means that she will be delaying (and possibly ruining) her chances of a successful career. Regardless, Jasmine is ready to accept the stark reality of her situation and sacrifice everything for her baby; but seeing her star student fall prey to the rampant inner-city school system curse of teen pregnancy really upsets Sam, who had very high hopes for Jasmine’s future.
Unexpected perceptively illustrates the contrasts and similarities of unplanned pregnancies across Sam and Jasmine’s polarized races, classes and ages. For both females, pregnancy has a devastating impact on their future plans, yet their cultural backgrounds cause them to deal with their circumstances differently. Jasmine accepts her fate so easily because that is the nature and norm of her environment. Sam is much more progressive in her beliefs and must wrestle with the notion that she will have to pause her desire for career advancement and empowerment in order to raise a child. Pregnancy also seems to have an alienating affect on both Sam and Jasmine because neither of their boyfriends seem to understand what they are experiencing or feeling.
Though Unexpected does not maintain its bitter angle all the way to its conclusion, Swanberg does share a rather negative outlook on pregnancy. The approach is rightfully shocking, as each woman is forced to sacrifice great opportunities and essentially reduce their identity to being a mother. All the while, society discriminates against them, or at least is not willing to make compromises on their behalf. Swanberg specifically highlights the shameful inadequacies of inner-city high schools in dealing with pregnant students — and also shows that universities are not all that much better.
On another level, Unexpected observes people trying to be helpful, but helping in ways that the other person may not want to be helped. These are conflicted characters who are far from perfect, fumbling around, trying to support each other but often just making things worse. As Sam tries to force Jasmine to do things her way, we know that she only has Jasmine’s best interests at heart. The problem is that she never took the time to really understand what would make Jasmine happy. The same goes for the way John tries to help Sam. The ever-doting John tries so hard to be helpful and supportive, but he does not realize just how conflicted Sam is. It does not help that John is a bit naive and says the wrong things at times (such as suggesting that staying at home with the baby “could be a nice break” for her), but he is still portrayed by Swanberg with great affection (sometimes a bit too much sweetness).