Sundance Review: ‘Unexpected’, Starring Cobie Smulders and Gail Bean

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Pregnancy in many films is often portrayed in a comedic fashion (Knocked Up, Father of the Bride 2, just to name a few) and is often, strangely enough, told from a man’s perspective. And while it’s well-known that females in mainstream films have less meaty roles to take, one can thank independent film directors like Kris Swanberg, who are bold enough to make a film about pregnancy, women’s choices, and their feelings on the matter, and told from the perspective of two very different women going through the same ordeal.

Samantha Abbott (Cobie Smulders) is a science teacher at an inner-city high school in Chicago. Samantha finds out that she’ll be jobless by the end of the year due to the city’s decision to close several public schools in the area. At the same time that she’s struggling with looking for a new job and the stress that comes with losing a job and finding a new one, she discovers that she’s pregnant. Surprised and flustered over what to do with that decision, along with her boyfriend (Anders Holm), she goes through a wild ride of emotions. When she discovers that one of her best students, senior Jasmine (Gail Bean), is also pregnant, the two of them bond over their pregnancies, helping Jasmine apply for college, and struggling to cope with their new-found situations in the wake of completely different social classes and issues.

To start with, Unexpected does not play to social or racial stereotypes as most of these kinds of films do. Kris Swanberg draws from her own experiences as a Chicago high school teacher in order to create a well-rounded story that’s just as emotional as it is unique. The two characters parallel to each other, yet their problems are never the same. The film is bold and discusses the many doubts, emotions, and life-changing decisions that pregnant women go through. Samantha wants to stay home with the baby, but also wants to work, and feels guilty for feeling this way. Jasmine wants to keep the baby, but still find a way to go to college. These are all just some of the issues they are faced with.

Swanberg doesn’t pander to the topic, nor does she gloss over important feelings to make motherhood or impending motherhood seem like it comes natural. She doesn’t play to the fact that women just know what to do when coming face to face with pregnancy and children, like many assume. And what’s also made clear is that this film does not focus on violence or anything people might assume about inner-city schools. Swanberg creates a loving atmosphere on both spectrums and doesn’t partake in making either character out to be a bad person, only excelling at showing their natural human feelings.

Cobie Smulders is wonderfully strong, wears her heart on her sleeve, and portrays Samantha in a vulnerable, doubtful, and scared of her situation kind of way. She isn’t jumping with joy since the pregnancy is unplanned and she’s exploring her options in life, and tries to help Jasmine do the same. Gail Bean as Jasmine is triumphant. She’s perfect in her role and portrays Jasmine in a mature and level-headed way. She and Smulders have great onscreen chemistry and their friendship shines throughout the film.

Unexpected is a fresh new take on the journey that is pregnancy and the decisions and relationships that come from this journey. The script is honest, mature, and genuinely touching in many ways. The performances by the lead cast are sincere and filled with heart. Swanberg brings us a film that isn’t all rainbows and sunshine, but is a look at the choices and emotions that are often hard to deal with in situations such as this. It also brings depth to a woman’s ordeal during this time and doesn’t just play to stereotypes of pregnancy. A wonderful and heartfelt film that excels in all areas of storytelling.

Sundance Release Date: January 25, 2015 | Director: Kris Swanberg | Screenwriters: Megan Mercier, Kris Swanberg | Cast: Cobie Smulders, Gail Bean, Anders Holm, Aaron J. Nelson | Genre: Drama

 

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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